A member of the Union’s Hiking Club has tragically died during a hill walk in Scotland.
The alert was raised at around 3pm on Sunday, after one of the party suffered a fall. A large search operation was then launched in the Cairngorm Mountains.
Five students were airlifted to safety by an RAF helicopter on Monday. Shortly afterwards, a body was found in the Jacob’s Ladder area of Coire ant-Sneachda.
The man has been identified as ex-Leeds student Graham Connell.
Chief Inspector Colin Gough, of Northern Constabulary said the students had “spent a night in hell”. On Sunday, Connell, a seasoned hill walker with ten years experience, led a group of 6 up the mountain. Wind speeds were expected to be 30-40mph but became much more severe later that day, reaching 70mph.
Rescuer Donnie Williamson said that during the search, “Weather conditions are hellish. We can’t see our knees. The access road is blocked and as soon as it is cleared, it all blows back in again so we are having difficulty getting our vehicles up the hill. We struggled all night to get up on to the hill and only managed it by 6am.”
Around 35 members of the club had left from the Cromer Terrace at 5pm on Friday for a weekend trip. The Society’s website warned members “Scotland WILL be cold. You WILL need more clothes than you normally do.”
The Hiking Club have released a statement stating that they are “shocked and saddened” by the accident, and paying tribute to Graham: “Graham has been a member of the club for more than ten years and has been a friend, mentor and inspiration to many generations of hikers. We miss him terribly. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, colleagues and pupils.”
The Hiking Club makes clear on its website that members are responsible for their own safety. Each walk is risk-assessed by the group leader who must ensure all participants have the right equipment.
Leeds University Union has said: “The safety of our members is paramount for all activities undertaken and we will be conducting a full review of the Cairngorms event with the support of the University.”
Geoff Banks, Student Activities Manager at the Union, told Leeds Student that Graham Connell was “certainly competent enough” to be leading the group.
Ben Lewis – committee member for the The Hiking Club commented: “We are planning a memorial walk for Graham in the Spring and will continue to offer students the opportunity to undertake challenging experiences in the outdoors. Graham loved the Hiking Club and this is what he would have wanted.”
A report on Connell’s death will be submitted to the Public Prosecutor in Scotland.