True Life Rescue Story 

Original Mountain Marathon (OMM)

Competitor Swept down Swollen Spouthead Gill

Saturday 25th October 2008


The following is the incident log of the rescue followed by an account written by the casualties father.    I have included his account as it very accurately describes the events surrounding the incident both before the rescue team gets to the scene of the accident and also the steps that were taken that undoubtedly saved the ladies life.

2008:63 25/10/08 (2.20 p.m.) - Saturday  

Telephone call from Keswick MRT after they had been contacted by Ambulance control (Keswick were already dealing with 3 incidents related to the same event ( Original Mountain Marathon).  Female competitor in a team of two had been swept away down the swollen Spouthead Gill where it met with Lingmell Beck (Wasdale side of Styhead Pass). 

The team were immediately called out and approximately 20 team members attended.  Unprecedented rainfall and high winds had flooded the valleys and swollen the rivers.  The missing walker was located on an island in the middle of the raging gill.  She was located on a very small island with a number of injuries.  A further 4 walkers had gone to assist her but were also stranded.  4 Wasdale swift water technicians managed to get to the location and two got across to the island using ropes.  A Sea King helicopter that had been called in to assist in the search for the lost walker was brought in to winch all 7 off the island which was quickly becoming engulfed.  The injured and hypothermic female was stretcher winched.  All were flown to Whitehaven Hospital.  Incident closed at around 6.30 p.m.

See grough website article and video footage here   and competitors story here

See further photos here from BBC website

[NY 21462 09140]


Photo before the start on the Saturday ... the casualty, Liz, is the girl in the light blue cagoule; the other girl (Emily) and the old man behind (me) are the other two treated at the hospital. (Liz's boyfriend, standing behind her, had a storming run in his race on the Saturday and would have been a likely prizewinner had the Sunday not been cancelled.)


Another version of the story:  - as written by the casualty's father (his permission given to reproduce here on the team's website along with the above photograph which was taken before the start of the race.


As is well documented, there had been heavy rain midweek and the OMM organisers did well to establish the event centre on a pleasant Friday. Everyone’s fingers were crossed that the weekend weather would turn out kinder than the dire forecast.


I was doing Short Score with daughter Emily - our Start time was 9:53. The howling gale and continuous torrential downpour started just after 9:30.  Daughter Liz was also doing Short Score, with Rachel Findlay-Robinson, starting at 10:24.


We climbed steadily up to Sprinkling Tarn, quickly aborted a trip to Glaramara, and still looking for points rather than a direct route to Camp, nipped over Esk Hause to a control under Bow Fell. Back to Esk Hause and linking arms to stay upright in the wind, we three-legged over Great End and made a very uncomfortable descent to a tricky navigational control under Scafell Pike. With almost 3 hours gone, we were now in a hurry, and we had Wasdale and Ennerdale to cross, as in the conditions I didn’t fancy the Gable traverse. There was a control on a stream bend towards the head of Wasdale and as we homed in on it, Liz and Rachel appeared from the opposite direction, also heading for Camp - they’d been a bit less greedy, and in truth, much more sensible. The control was a few hundred feet above the valley floor, and at this height we could have crossed the main pair of streams and then escaped round the foot of Kirk Fell. However, we all set off down to the valley. It was a strange, uniformly grey sight with low cloud and the gale driving rain from the sky mixed with spray from the water.


It soon became obvious that crossing the main stream was not going to be easy. People were milling about, some attempting very dubious crossings, some going down, some going up. A woman said we’d never cross lower down, but I wasn’t convinced, and didn’t want to lose any time. We went to look, leaving Liz and Rachel to make their own decision. After a while, a huge side-stream put a stop to any ideas of going any further, so we turned back up-stream. I was pretty nervous about white water, having had a partner (“JK”) take an involuntary swim in similar conditions in the Howgills 1998. We passed Liz and Rachel looking at a crossing I didn’t fancy at all. We carried on up, had a look at several more places and still couldn’t find a way across. By chance we looked down the hillside and saw Rachel running up the hill, blowing her whistle and waving frantically.


Rachel said Liz had been swept away down the river and out of sight. We agreed that we would try to find Liz, and she would go for help - there were quite a few people visible higher up the valley, and a radio control at Esk Hause. As it happens, one of the nearby people was a mountain rescue person with a walking group and a working phone, and he quickly raised the alarm and got Rachel down to Wasdale Head.


As we were getting across a side-stream to go back down the valley, another competitor appeared and said there was a girl on some rocks lower down and had we seen her partner ? They (Phil England and Tim Sparrow, on Long Score) had done the same as us, looking lower down and climbing back up, but they’d seen Rachel and Liz trying to get across on the way down, and recognised Liz on the way back up.


We zoomed downstream to find Liz lying face down just out of the water on a little island which divided the main stream. When we got across to her, she was conscious but cold, and very reluctant to be moved or touched. Between the four of us, we managed to go through the basics of Outdoor First Aid – space blanket, sleeping bag, tent-as-bivi, bubble-wrap underneath, people lying close to add warmth, but it wasn’t being effective enough. We put up a tent on a flattish bit - pegged out with rocks - managed to man-handle Liz into it, and finally got the kettle on. Because everyone was now getting cold, we also put up another tent so all 5 could get some shelter from the still-hammering wind and rain, and put more clothes on. Apparently Liz and Emily were now singing Abba songs to keep themselves occupied, so it’s a good job I was busy outside.  


We’d taken maybe a couple of hours to reach the point of deciding to have a confab over what we’d need to do to spend the night there. We had placed a stone to watch water levels on the low side of the island, and that was looking OK, but didn’t have the same on the higher side. With exceptional timing, the confab was immediately abandoned as we heard whistles and shouts, and half-a-dozen Mountain Rescuers appeared on the far bank. Lower down the valley we could see several more searchers.  Apparently, when the call came, the leaders had been putting canoes onto their van roof in order to go white-water canoeing in Eskdale, so they were already fully dressed for action.


We quickly established that we were the casualty they were looking for, though with the noise of the water and the wind, this was mostly done with arm waving. It seemed to take ages for them to establish a rope across the stream and get a couple of men across to us. They tied a rope around a large rock, angled it at 45 degrees across the flow, and had 3 of us sit like in a tug-of-war keeping the other end secure. They then karabinered a dry bag, and themselves, to the rope and started to walk across. When they were swept off their feet, the karabiner made sure they simply slid in the direction they wanted to go. Very cunning.


The dry bag contained a serious fleece suit which Liz was put in. I was expecting a stretcher to be next across followed by a team trip across a reverse rope, but then a helicopter arrived and hovered maybe 50-100 ft above us. An RAF man was winched down, using a very impressive system of emphatic arm signals as he spun round under the aircraft. It turns out they’d come from Anglesey, in super-fast time with the gale behind them.


First up were Phil and Tim, face to face each in a harness which is nothing more than a loop of seat-belt material which your armpits keep you in. Then a stretcher came down, Liz was strapped onto it, and the RAF man went back up with her. Next up were Emily and me, and last the Mountain Rescuers Mike and Steve. It felt like forever, spinning gently round miles above the ground, before the helicopter door appeared and we were pulled in.


Sometime during this process, the tents were totally flattened by the downdraft, and I realised that there was already a few inches of water running through both tents as the upper side of the island had been breached.


We were all dropped at Whitehaven Hospital. Phil and Tim returned to Wasdale Head with Mike and Steve, in the ambulance, which then brought Rachel back along with someone else with a broken collarbone (MTR callout 2008:63a). Liz was treated for hypothermia (her temperature was 34.1 when measured on arrival), X-rayed from head to toe, and kept in overnight for observation. A hairline fracture of a wrist was supported with a splint. Emily and I were warmed with toasted blankets, tea and soup, and allowed to embark on a complicated series of phone calls to inform the organisers where we were and get ourselves a lift to a warm bed.


Two weeks later, the casualty is still very tired and bruised all over, her grazed back is healing nicely, she still has some muscle problems around a knee, and the wrist still needs its splint.


A few random thoughts:


·        The most valuable thing we did was also the very first thing we did – sending Rachel for help.

·        The Outdoor First Aid course we had to do for Clubmark and my Coaching qualification was a major factor (for me at least) in providing a framework for us to do sensible things.

·        The Most Useful Item you can ever carry is a space blanket. Much more effective than anything else we had. Probably any time “cagoules are compulsory” you should stick a space blanket in as well.

·        How come her temperature dropped so low when we’d done sensible things ? When we’d got the dry clothing out (a woolly jumper), it had gone on top of everything. I think we’d have been better getting dry clothing next to skin and putting the wet stuff back on top.

·        Following one of the threads on the OMM forum, I’m going to investigate neoprene gloves from a sub-aqua supplier for future events. Carrying phone numbers and money might also be a good idea.

·        The thing that tipped the event over the edge was a bad forecast coming abundantly true on top of already totally-soaked hills. It seems to me the organisers were unlucky rather than wrong, and I think the vast majority of competitors would have been very disappointed if it had been cancelled ahead of time.


Some interesting links:


·        2-and-a-half-hours of excellent reportage in two podcasts on:

Liz is interviewed from about 32 minutes to 39 minutes into the first podcast; Lucy Harris features early in the second one.

·        A decent article by Richard Askwith (author of Feet in the Clouds):

·        Lots of assorted threads on the OMM Forum:

·        Wasdale Mountain Rescue (featuring photos of rescuers Mike Gullen and Steve Walter):

·        Last but definitely not least, the Event-related charity collection for Mountain Rescue on:


The following photographs were taken from the BBC website and other sources - as one could imagine, it was not a day to be taking photos so there is a shortage of good high resolution pics around

Driving down from Honister Pass

Borrowdale road in flood




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