A CLIMBER has died and another is in a serious condition in hospital after plunging more than 1,000ft near the summit of Ben Nevis.
The pair were near top of the 4,370ft mountain on an ice climb when the accident happened yesterday morning.
Nearby climbers who were also tackling the route, called Zero Gully, on the north face of the UK’s highest mountain, heard shouts and contacted the police just before 11am.
Members of Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team and a Sea King rescue helicopter went to the scene and discovered the two seriously injured climbers at the bottom of a 1,000ft gully.
They were airlifted to Belford Hospital in Fort William, but one of the men died.
A spokesman for the mountain rescue team said it was possible one climber had fallen and taken his companion with him.
Northern Constabulary last night said the survivor was being treated for serious injuries.
John Stevenson, Lochaber Mountain Rescue team leader, said: “We got the call around 11am to say two boys had fallen on the Ben and we sent in a team.
“We located to two guys and they were airlifted to hospital, but unfortunately one of them did not make it.
“They had been tackling the north face on the Ben. They fell over 1,000ft, which is quite a distance. The other guy is lucky to survive.
“It is another tragedy on the Ben. Hopefully we don’t see any more this winter.”
Mr Stevenson added: “One of them has fallen off and taken the other one with him. They have gone down about 350 metres-plus, to the bottom.
“The weather was fine. The top of the Ben was crystal clear. So it looks like they have just had an unfortunate accident.”
The Zero Gully is one of Ben Nevis’ three most popular ice climbs near the summit of the peak, along with Point Five and The Orion.
A Northern Constabulary spokesman said: “Shortly before 11am police received a report of two people having fallen a considerable height near the summit of Ben Nevis, Fort William.
“A rescue helicopter and Lochaber Mountain Rescue team attended and effected a rescue. However, one of the climbers had died. The surviving casualty suffered serious injuries.”
During winter, the mountain is known for its “superb placements for ice axes and crampons”, as its average temperature is about zero Celsius.
However, there are warnings for climbers to make sure they have the necessary experience or are with a seasoned mountaineer or mountain guide before attempting the routes, especially in the winter months.
In January last year, a mountain walker survived after falling 1,000ft near the summit of Sgurr Choinnich Mòr, in the Grey Corries, about five miles east of Ben Nevis.
Adam Potter, 36, was standing next to his girlfriend and dog when he slipped and plunged down the side of the mountain.
Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team and a Royal Navy Sea King crew from HMS Gannet feared the worst after being told the man had fallen such a distance. But when the helicopter arrived, its observer Lieutenant Tim Barker saw Mr Potter standing at the base of the mountain’s eastern crags, reading his map.
It was only when the crew traced a route back up the mountain and spotted bits of his gear spread out above him that they realised they had found their casualty.
Mr Potter suffered mild concussion during his epic fall and regained consciousness wondering how he had come to be at the base of the cliffs – and started consulting his map.
Astonishingly, he suffered only minor breaks to three of his vertebrae – without damage to the spinal cord, leaving him able to walk – abdominal injuries and abrasions to his face.
He told how his fall had started with a small slip before he slid over the edge of the near-vertical drop on the eastern side of the 3,598ft mountain.
He described desperately trying to lose speed as he tumbled over a succession of crags, alternatively hitting the ground and freefalling.
He said: “I wasn’t thinking about any life experiences or anything like this – there was no life flashing in front of my eyes. I just needed to slow myself down.”