18 hours overdue but we still didn't get called!

The following is a true story about a group of scouts who survived their ordeal in Piers Gill due to the courage of two of their party who climbed out of the 30 meter deep ravine to raise the alarm.  Names have been withheld in the following report, which was written to highlight the seriousness of the situation the scout leader allowed his group to get into. 

The report was prepared by Bill Pattison MBE, Team Leader on the day of the incident.  The purpose of publishing this report is to remind group leaders of their responsibilities when organising expeditions. The following extract from the yearbook is a brief summary of the incident, the full detail of the incident follows this.  I leave you to draw your own conclusions.......

                                    Richard Warren - Secretary WMRT

4th June 2000

Extract from the 'Into the Millennium' Team Yearbook - page 40




12 mid day: Fell walking, Piers Gill, Scafells.  A party of six scouts on an expedition strayed into Piers Gill and spent a very wet and cold night there.  Two lads managed to scramble out and meet up with their supervisor 19 hours after they should have met him.  He decided he should do something about it and the team was informed.  We found the four remaining lads with all their gear soaked, in the Gill.  Two were minus their boots and trousers, which had been swept away by wind and the beck.   

We managed to walk two and stretchered two up out of the Gill and up to Lingmell Col for evacuation by RAF Valley helicopter, which was unable to get any nearer due to gale force winds. 

The lads made good recovery after some Wasdale Head Inn hospitality.  The weather over the four days the lads were out was horrendous.  Gale force winds, torrential rain, hail, floods, thunder and lightning.  The scouter seemed incredibly laid back, unconcerned and complacent about a serious situation.  He did not seem to have exercised sensible judgment in allowing the expedition to proceed and claimed he had talked to rescue team on 26 November 1998 and we had said it was OK to leave them.  Not true.  No one spoke to him.  He then claimed we were only seeking publicity in expressing our concerns.  (Some publicity stunt).  He then said that he did not call out the team, as he did not think we would go out at night.  If only! 

The police are considering prosecution for endangering juveniles.

Piers Gill viewed from the eastern side of Lingmell near the crossing of Greta Gill.  The scouts were located at the point on the photograph where the Gill takes a 90 degree bend to the left (looking up), just about where the snowy crags intersect the green bank. It is a good hours walk to this point from the Wasdale Head Hotel

Tuesday 27th October 1998

1200hrs  Bill Pattison contacted by Whitehaven Police to say 4 scouts were in difficulties in Piers Gill.  The informant was the scout expedition leader/organiser (Mr. X ), who was at the telephone kiosk at Wasdale Head.  Bill Pattison rang him and confirmed the information and location.  Mr. X did not seem overly concerned at this stage.

1205hrs  The team was alerted by bleep.  Due to the weather conditions and possible seriousness of the incident a helicopter from RAF Valley was also requested to assist.

Around the same time, Howard Christie( Manager of Wasdale Head Inn and also a member of the rescue team) was returning to Gosforth when he saw a van blocking two car parking spaces on the Hotel car park.  He went to talk to the driver (Mr. X) and was surprised to hear that he had just rang the police the police and spoken to the rescue team.  H. Christie invited Mr. X and the scouts with him into the Residents bar and spoke to Bill Pattison on the phone.  This was the first conversation Howard Christie had had with Mr. X.  The two venture scouts were able to give a good description of the location, with an accurate (as it turned out) grid reference, of the remaining four scouts on the hill.

Howard Christie was immediately concerned when they told him that at least one of the scouts was without boots and all of their clothing was wet.  They had put the scouts inside orange plastic survival bags.

1235hrs  The advance party left Mill forge Base in Gosforth

1240hrs  After talking to Bill Pattison, Howard Christie and two other team members set off up the hill ahead of the advance party, just arriving at Wasdale Head

 1315hrs  RAF Valley (Royal Air Force Sea King Helicopter) advised the team to set off as they were unsure they would be able to fly in the weather conditions. (The team by now were already well on their way up the hill, anyway.)

 1345hrs  First rescuers arrive at grid reference 213082 and spotted party 100 ft. below them in the bed of Piers Gill.  One team member was sent the longer, safe route into the top of Piers Gill, whilst the other two attempted to descend a more direct line.  They had to abort close to the bed of the Gill due to loose rock and dangerous ground.  On arrival at the scene the four scouts were found to be in pairs inside plastic survival bags.  One bag was perched very  close to the edge  of a series of waterfall cascades approximately 50 ft high, the other was on the opposite bank on a grass ledge immediately below the gorge wall.  Both were only feet from the water, so close in fact that the rescuers had their feet in water whilst attending to the scouts.  The whole area was littered with their equipment and clothing some of which had been blown and / or washed down the gill.

An initial assessment indicated all four were conscious and alert but were very cold and shivering.  Two appeared colder to the touch than the others and were dealt with first.  A bivouac tent was put over them and we prepared to transfer them into a casualty bag.

As the plastic bag was opened we were astonished to find that one boy had no trousers, socks or boots on and the other was without boots.   We made them comfortable in the casualty bag and then transferred the other two.  They had to be carried across as they were also without boots and one was also without trousers.  Team members gave personal kit (gloves, hats and spare clothing).  They were given food and warm drinks and soon began to warm up.  Team members retrieved as much as possible of their equipment up to 150 ft down the gill below them.  One spare pair of boots had been carried up by a team member and we managed to prepare two of the boys adequately to walk out.

1420hrs  The helicopter, now on scene, made several attempts to get into the location but was prevented by the wind.  The crew requested we evacuate the casualties to Lingmel Col  - approximately half a mile and 600 ft. above our location.  The first two scouts were walked, with assistance, to this point and the helicopter picked them up at 1525 hrs.


The remaining two scouts, having no boots and inadequately dressed, were kept in casualty bags and carried uphill to the col.  They were airlifted as soon as they arrived at the helicopter at 1650 hrs.

1705hrs  The remainder of the team were airlifted back down to Wasdale Head.

The casualties were all given blankets, T-shirts, food and drink at the Wasdale Head Inn, where we discovered that they had managed to keep some clothing (underwear and T-shirts) dry in their rucksacks, carefully wrapped in plastic bags.

After the rescue Bill Pattison quietly took Mr. X aside and asked him whether, in retrospect, it was wise to have allowed them to continue with their expedition in view of the weather conditions.  Mr. X replied "Yes, no problem".  He seemed extremely complacent and unconcerned by the whole episode.  We were given to understand that the scouts should have rendezvoused with him at Wasdale Head at 1700 hrs on Monday , 26th.  The party were 19 hours overdue when the alarm was raised by the two venture scouts.

We understand the party set out on Saturday , 24th, a day of severe gales and torrential rain.  The same day, in fact, that the Karrimor International Mountain Marathon was being held nearby in the Howgills.  An event that attracts some of the most experienced mountaineers and fell runners in the country.  Three quarters of the competitors retired on the first day of the two day event.  This was unprecedented and reflects the severity of the storm, which was forecast several days in advance.

The scouts had already had two nights under canvas in these conditions when they became overdue.  It was unfortunate that they made a navigational error which took them into Piers Gill (at 1700 hrs on the Monday).  Their error was understandable in the circumstances but they might have got down into the valley that night (albeit in the dark) if it not been made.

The two venture scouts showed considerable maturity and had done well to get out of the Gill, down the mountain and raise the alarm, providing an accurate location.  Without this the outcome could have been much more serious.

The four scouts showed good spirit and were very grateful for the Team's efforts.  They had done well to survive in a potentially disastrous situation.

We found Mr. X reticent to discuss the matter with us but it was subsequently reported on BBC Local Radio Three Counties that Mr. X claimed to have spoken to Howard Christie on Monday night in the pub regarding the fact that his group were overdue.  Mr. Christie is reported to have told him that everything would be fine.  No such contact or conversation took place and certainly no advice like that would have been given in the circumstances.

As reported in our yearbook the police were considering prosecuting Mr. X  for endangering juveniles.  This was pursued but not followed through.  We understand that the Scout management group from the county concerned did carry out an investigation and that Mr. X subsequently resigned.  Bill Pattison was never invited to give evidence at that investigation.  We leave you to form your own opinion of the incident.

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