Three people have died following an avalanche involving two separate groups in the Chalamain Gap area of the Cairngorms: two off-duty RAF personnel and a student on a Glenmore Lodge winter skills training course.
The avalanche was reported to have happened shortly after 12:30 on Thursday 14 February, in the Chalamain Gap.
The three people were buried 3-4m deep when rescuers arrived on the scene. The Scottish Avalanche Information Service report states that the avalanche occurred on the northeast wall of Chalamain Gap, which is a steep convex slope. The avalanche was approximately 400m wide with a 1-2m deep crown wall, and debris 3-5m deep.
All three were airlifted to the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. A man and a woman were pronounced dead in the hours following the search, and the second man died early this morning.
There were two groups of climbers in the area at the time on opposite sides of the Gap. One group was part of a Glenmore Lodge organised winter skills training course and the second was a separate group comprising off-duty RAF personnel who were climbing in the area.
At around 12:30pm an avalanche occurred in the area and three people, two from the RAF and one a student from the Glenmore team were caught up in the avalanche.
The search got underway very quickly and mountain rescue teams from Cairngorm, Glenmore and Lossiemouth were joined by SARDA Dogs Scotland, Lake District SARDA Dogs training in the area, members of Cairngorm Mountain Ski Patrol and rescue helicopters One Three Seven and One Three Eight. The Scottish Ambulance Service’s air ambulance was also in attendance.
Once the casualties were located they were all airlifted to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, where they were sadly pronounced dead.
Northern Constabulary Area Inspector, Murdoch MacLeod, said:
"This is a very tragic incident and our thoughts are currently with the families of those who have lost their lives. It is important that we pay tribute to work of the rescuers who responded extremely quickly to the incident and located all three climbers in a short space of time."
Police have confirmed the details of two deceased climbers from the RAF group: Rimon Than and Fran Capps.
Squadron Leader Rimon Than (33) was a member of the Army Mountaineering Association (AMA) and a qualified doctor. He had recently returned from an AMA expedition to China in December 2012, where his team had become the first to reach the peak of the 5,640m Wupingfeng mountain in Sichuan.
Flight Lieutenant Fran Capps (32) originally from Dulverton was also a member of the RAF Mountaineering Association.
Air Commodore Russell La Forte, President of the RAF Mountaineering Association, said: “I and all members of the RAF Mountaineering Association are shocked and saddened by the tragic loss of two of our colleagues in an avalanche in the Cairngorm Mountains
Both Rimon and Fran were stalwart members of the Association. Talented mountaineers and tireless members of the Association’s committee, they both contributed an enormous amount to RAF and Service mountaineering, having led groups on expeditions overseas."
The third victim, currently unnamed, was a student on a Glenmore Lodge winter skills course.
Commenting on the fatality, Bob Kinnaird, Principal of Glenmore Lodge, sportscotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre, said:
“This is a tragic incident, and our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to the victims’ families and friends. The rescue services acted very professionally, responded quickly, and did everything they possibly could have throughout this terrible episode.
“The sportscotland Avalanche Information Service indicated a considerable avalanche Hazard - this indicates that human-triggered avalanches are likely in described areas with single person loading, which is not unusual for February or during a winter season. Our instructors are highly skilled and always follow the safest possible routes in such conditions. Instructors carried out a risk assessment of the route, however, Scotland’s snow and avalanche conditions at this time of year can be very challenging.
“We will work closely with Northern Constabulary and immediately undertake a review into the tragedy to understand what happened and whether any lessons can be learned to help mitigate future risks.”
This is the first fatality involving a Glenmore Lodge group since the 1970s. The group was on day four of a five-day Introduction to Winter Mountaineering course, which has been running in its current format for more than 20 years, with similar courses operating since Glenmore Lodge opened in 1948.
The BMC offers condolences to all those involved.
Check the Northern Constabulary site for breaking news
Information on winter walking
The winter hills offer a unique but challenging experience.
If you're heading out, have a read of our winter skills articles.
Read the latest mountain safety advice from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland.
Information on avalanches
Read our article on avalanches and hill walking
Check the Sportscotland Avalanche Information Service