Paramedic risked his life to save climbers in deadly danger on the UK’s highest peak.
Duncan, 60, was aboard the Inverness Search and Rescue helicopter as part of a major rescue operation from Ben Nevis in March 2022. Responding to reports a man in his 20s had fallen on the mountain, it soon became clear the mission would be a complex one. Weather conditions were treacherous, and there were multiple people stranded on Britain’s highest peak.
Conditions were too bad for the helicopter to land or hover safely, so the decision was made to land further down the mountain, at Halfway Lochan. Winch paramedic Duncan volunteered to leave the safety of the aircraft and, loaded with 30kg of rescue gear, wearing crampons and carrying an ice axe, he started his dangerous ascent. As he made his way up the mountain, Duncan met two groups of people on their way down who were mentally and physically exhausted.
Advising both groups on how to proceed to give them the best possible chance of survival, Duncan enlisted the support of an experienced climber from the second group to join him as he continued up the freezing mountain. Two more groups were still stuck further up.
One was made up of the man who was the subject of the original emergency call, along with two others who had gone to his aid. Trapped at Red Burn Gulley, a craggy, inaccessible area of the mountain around 1500 – 1800ft above the spot where Duncan’s team had landed the helicopter, one of those who had tried to help had suffered a broken leg, while sadly the man who had suffered the initial fall could not be saved.
Further up again, two more climbers were stranded. With darkness approaching and dreadful weather conditions continuing, the Mountain Rescue team made their way to the group of three at Red Burn Gulley while Duncan and his companion climbed on, finally tracking down the last two climbers and guiding them back down the mountain.
It was a dramatic and dangerous descent which saw Duncan slide down an ice slope before he saved himself by digging into the frozen ground with his axe.
Duncan was finally reunited with his colleagues in the helicopter after six hours on Ben Nevis. In total, it is believed 24 people were rescued from the mountain that day, but Duncan says the single fatality reflects the “stark reality” of the challenging work he and his team do.
He says: “My grandchildren recently told me I should be working less and that my work is too dangerous. But I’m 60 years old and I still get a lot from it, so until I don’t, I will keep on going.”