EIGHT climbers on three mountain ranges in Scotland were rescued yesterday as severe weather conditions prompted the busiest weekend for search and rescue teams so far this year.
Amid heavy snowfall that presented "very demanding conditions" for rescuers, three military helicopters and search teams were sent out to the separate incidents.
Two ice climbers were found by search teams in Torridon, Wester Ross, along with three others in Glencoe and three walkers missing in the Killin area
The multiple operations yesterday followed an incident in Glencoe area on Saturday, which left a 34-year-old Scottish climber dead.
The man had suffered serious head injuries after falling 600ft.
A spokesman for the RAF last night said: "Between yesterday and today, military rescue helicopters and mountain rescue teams recovered 11 people - three on Saturday and eight today - in what was by far the busiest weekend this year."
He added: "All the rescues involved searching in poor weather and all involved successful outcomes. In 90 minutes today, we got all eight lost climbers to safety.
"The rescues involved very demanding flying and very demanding conditions on the ground. It's cold and wet and unpredictable in its nature. At times the pilots faced heavy snow."
The first rescue yesterday came just before 12:30pm, when two ice climbers who had failed to return to their accommodation on Saturday night were found in Torridon by search teams.
Searchers said the men, who were well-equipped, were cold but did not require medical treatment.
A police spokesman said: "Initial inquiries suggest that, due to a combination of poor weather and the loss of light, they decided to take shelter for the night and continue their descent in daylight and on the improvement of the weather. Both men were experienced and well equipped and they appear to have made the right decision in the circumstances."
Meanwhile in Glencoe, three climbers had managed to contact the emergency services on Sunday morning to say they had lost their way on Stob Coire Nam Beith.
They were traced shortly after 1pm and taken to Belford Hospital in Fort William. At least two of the group were suffering from hypothermia, said rescuers.
The three walkers reported overdue near Killin had been walking on Ben Lawers, Perthshire.
The party, believed to be from Durham University, dialled 999 on Sunday morning, but poor reception prevented them speaking to police.
The walkers were found shortly before 3pm yesterday, and searchers said were well-equipped and cold, but did not require medical treatment.
The rescues followed the death on Saturday of a man who fell in the Bidean nam Bian area of Glencoe.
Members of Glencoe, Lochaber and RAF Mountain Rescue teams were scrambled to the scene, along with helicopters from HMS Gannet in Ayrshire and RAF Kinloss.
Glencoe mountain rescue team leader John Grieve said: "There was a party of three coming off Bidean Nam Bian when one climber was either blown off by the strong winds or he hit a bit of loose snow.
"He fell about 600ft down a snow slope, hitting rocks on the way. One of his companions also fell, and broke his leg."
Mr Grieve said the third member of the party managed to get down and met up with a climbing guide who had a mobile phone.
"He called us and then went back up to see if he could help.
"Conditions were too bad on that part of the mountain for a helicopter to get in. We had to carry the dead man and his companion out," added Mr Grieve
In a separate incident, a third man was also found injured nearby.
Meanwhile, the Avalanche Information Service has released warnings for the Northern Cairngorms, Lochaber and Glencoe.
The service said strong southerly winds and snow showers had produced fresh areas of unstable snow.
Yesterday, the Met Office reported 8in snow drifts in parts of Grampian, causing multiple road closures. A spokesman said the greatest danger to motorists today would be south of the Grampian region, as clearing skies brought freezing temperatures and icy roads.
"Drivers on rural roads need to take particular care," he said.
THE KILLER CAIRNGORMS
THIS winter has been what one mountain rescue team member called the worst in living memory, with five deaths in the Cairngorms in a matter of weeks.
Mike Rough, aged 48, from Devon fell 600ft to his death on Coire an t'Sneachda, the 'corrie of the snows', on 22 January.
Hugh Pitcairn, 20, of London died after a 500ft fall on 10 January. Earlier that month, Neil Bachelor, 26, died after a 500ft fall on Coire an t'Sneachda.
In November, two young ice climbers - Richard Hardy, 18, from Hampshire and Graeme Cooper, 23, from Aberdeen - who were on a trip with the Aberdeen University climbing club, died in a blizzard on the range.
John Allen, leader of the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue team said the list of fatalities was the worst he could remember in such a short stretch of time. He issued a warning to inexperienced climbers, advising them to stay away from the more difficult routes.
This winter has also seen a number of rescues of climbers who have been caught out by sudden changes in weather conditions.
A man and a woman in their twenties had a narrow escape when they were stranded on Ben Nevis overnight on 23 January. And two climbers from Aberdeen spent the same night on the slopes of Lochnagar, near Balmoral, after losing their bearings in a sudden snowfall.