THE wife of a climber who died during an attempt to rescue him after a fall on Scotland’s highest mountain has led tributes to her “loving” husband.
Police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the operation to winch 51-year-old Mark Phillips off Ben Nevis after he fell more than 160ft.
The Highland Council employee from Spean Bridge had been roped to a friend when he plunged from Raeburn’s Buttress on the north face of the peak.
His climbing partner abseiled to a spot where he could get mobile phone reception and raised the alarm. The rescue operation was put into action just after 12:30pm on Monday.
Mr Phillips is believed to have been alive but suffering from serious head injuries when an attempt was made to winch him into a Sea King rescue helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth.
It is understood that during the rescue attempt the rope connected to his stretcher was cut, causing him to fall to the ground. Northern Constabulary has confirmed that Mr Phillips died during the rescue.
The RAF helicopter was immediately stood down and a Royal Navy helicopter from HMS Gannet at Prestwick was called to complete the rescue.
Northern Constabulary said it could not comment further because it was a live investigation.
Mr Phillips’ wife Caroline said in a statement released through the police force that she had noted speculation surrounding his death, adding: “I have entire confidence in the police and the process and I do not want to indulge such speculation.”
Paying tribute to her husband, Mrs Phillips said: “On 25 February my beloved husband, Mark, was enjoying the superb conditions the Scottish Highlands were affording.
“He had spent the previous few days climbing and walking in the hills with friends. Tragically, that day he sustained fatal injuries following an incident on Ben Nevis.
“Mark and I, together with our son, Ruaridh, had moved to the Highlands about 12 years ago so as to live amongst the hills and community we had got to love.”
She added: “Mark was a loving father and husband and will be sorely missed by us and his many friends and work colleagues. Ruaridh and I thank them all for their support.”
The RAF directed all inquiries to Northern Constabulary, but it is understood the Ministry of Defence is carrying out its own internal investigation.
Mr Phillips was an environmental health officer based in Fort William.
Neil Gillies, director of transport environmental and community services, said Mr Phillips had worked for the council for 12 years, having moved to Fort William from England.
He said: “He was a popular, helpful and highly valued member of our team in Lochaber and always went about his business in an efficient and professional manner. He will be sorely missed.”
Provost of Lochaber Allan Henderson said: “I am extremely saddened to hear about the passing of our valued colleague.”
Mr Phillips is the 11th person to die on Scotland’s mountains this year.