SAVED! Teenagers found after 24 hour mountain ordeal

Dec 30, 1998 | Archive

Brave rescuers fought the most brutal weather in memory yesterday to pluck three teenagers from Ireland’s highest mountain. The three, aged 16, 17 and 18, cheated death after they became trapped on the freezing Carrauntoohil mountainside. As winds stormed, rains lashed and temperatures fell below freezing, 15 brave mountain rescue volunteers risked their own lives to save the stranded trio battling the elements in a tiny wooden hut at 2,500 feet.

The three campers were stuck on the mountain for 24 hours before they could raise the alarm. Last night as they recovered from their ordeal, the teenagers hailed their rescuers as heroes. “We were just so grateful to them. I was so delighted to see them and they were really great to us”, said Noel (names changed). “They did wonders for our morale and brought us blankets and hot drinks. I was never more grateful to see a cup-a-soup.”

While the trio were filled with hot tea, rescue workers enjoyed a welcome rest after their gruelling trek to save the hikers they feared dead. “It was the worst we have ever seen in our lives. The winds were hitting 70mph, it was absolutely freezing and the rain was so heavy you couldn’t see in front of your nose” said team member Christy McCarthy. “They were 2,500 feet up which didn’t help but we knew we had to get to them immediately. They were suffering from exposure and they needed to be warmed up and taken off the mountain. I’ve never seen three faces more delighted to see us in my life. They were very, very shaken but in good spirits when we got them down.”

The massive hunt of the Kerry mountain got underway yesterday evening after two members of the group managed to make it down safely and sound the alarm. The teenagers told Gardaí at the nearby Killarney station that three of their friends were trapped thousands of feet up in the bracing winds. They said they had set out for a walk up Carrauntoohil mountain but hours later realised they were stuck on the rugged hillside. Suffering from severe dehydration and exposure they had managed to huddle together in a small hut. As they realised the storms and biting rains were not going to subside, two were nominated to try to make their way down the mountain to raise the alarm.

“We had gone for a hike and on our descent down we pitched our tent and settled down for a meal. It was then that the storms began to rise and the wind really hit us hard” said Noel. “We decided to collapse our tent for safety’s sake as it would have been blown away. At this stage it was late – it was cold and dark and the conditions were appalling. We decided to get into our survival bags to try and keep warm. At first light we decided we would have to make progress down the mountain and decided to go to a hut about a third of the way down. I had been up the mountain before and I knew where it was. When we got there we decided that because of the conditions and the appalling weather that it would be better if we pooled and sent two of the lads ahead. We were cold and I would have to say very afraid about our safety. We were extremely tired as well.”

Once the alarm was sounded 15 volunteers from the Kerry Mountain Rescue Team began the operation which was to save the three lives. Racing winds and lashing rains almost forced volunteers to give up their efforts to save the three holidaymakers from Dublin, who had planned to spend New Year on the rugged mountainside. But despite what locals in the South Kerry area described as the worst storms in human memory the brave rescuers battled on.

Sergeant Pat Lehane said “We knew that they were in good spirits but that they were badly dehydrated. When we were informed of the situation we immediately called the Kerry Mountain Rescue Team who scrambled their members together. In normal conditions there would be no problem carrying out a rescue like this as we have a very experienced Mountain Rescue Team, but the high winds and very heavy rainfall made the underfoot and overground conditions very treacherous. The people who went up that mountain are totally experienced and very dedicated. They know their job inside out so we were confident from the beginning that we would get these boys down alive. But the visibility was very poor, there were incredibly high winds and heavy rainfall. It was a desperate day. In fact the worst in my lifetime. But there was no question but that the rescue would continue until it was successfully concluded.”

The sergeant paid tribute to the volunteers involved in the Mountain Rescue. “The members are all volunteers risking their own lives” he said. “There is great admiration for these people who go out in all weathers and any hour of the day or night without even cringing. Knowing the calibre of the men out there we were very optimistic.”

Mr McCarthy also explained how the team sprang into action immediately, out of fear for the lives of the trapped boys. “We were very lucky that we were able to get to them as quick as we were. A night on the mountain would have been lethal” he said. “Thankfully they didn’t need to go to hospital but they were suffering from exposure and we had to warm them up slowly.” They were last night tucked up in bed at Killarney Youth Hostel.