Families left shellshocked by deaths of 'ill-equipped' climbers in Cairngorms

THE father of one of the young climbers who died in the Cairngorms this week said he was "shellshocked" by the loss.

Graeme Cooper, 23, of Aberdeen, died along with Richard Hardy, 18, from Alton in Hampshire, when they were overcome by the Arctic-like conditions while returning from an ice climb in the Coire an t-Sneachda area.

A huge search was mounted on Sunday night after they failed to meet up with fellow members of the Lairig Climbing Club at Aberdeen University, but their bodies were found on Monday, 400 metres apart.

They were not adequately equipped for a night in the hostile environment. While both had ice-axes, crampons, boots and waterproof jackets, Mr Hardy, who was on his first winter climb in Scotland, was not wearing waterproof trousers.

Neither was thought to have been carrying bivouac equipment to allow them to take shelter from the driving wind.

Mr Cooper graduated from the university in July with an MA in geography, while Mr Hardy was a first-year student studying for a similar degree.

At the family home in Woodside Crescent, Aberdeen, Mr Cooper's father, Alan, said: "I'm not in a position to speak to anyone - not at this time and not in the foreseeable future. I'm shellshocked."

Mr Cooper had worked at the Clydesdale Bank for a time and a shipping company in Aberdeen. He was also a barman at the Aberdeenshire Cricket Club, where his father and grandfather were members.

Arnold Gill, the club's bar convener, said he was planning a tribute to Mr Cooper. "It's tragic. I was distraught when his dad told me," he said. "It's beyond belief, the loss of such a young, adventurous lad."

Mr Cooper was a pupil at Hazlehead Academy in Aberdeen from 1995 to 2001. Alan Murray, the acting rector, said: "He was a popular student who was fully involved in the social life of the school and it is a tragedy that his life and career have been cut short."

The family of Mr Hardy were last night grieving together at their home in Alton. A notice on the front door asked that the family be allowed to come to terms with their loss in private.

A young woman, believed to be one of Mr Hardy's older sisters, who answered the door said: "We do not want to talk to anyone about this."

The deaths also left Aberdeen University in mourning. Professor Stephen Logan, the senior vice-principal, said: "The whole of the university is really saddened and shocked. It's a terrible tragedy to lose two young men, one a recent graduate and one a very new student.

"All of us are feeling it very deeply, but our thoughts are with the families, as for them it must be dreadful."

He added: "This has not just affected the climbing club, but a whole lot of young people who will have known these two young men and will also be traumatised."

Tributes to the men were posted on the Lairig Climbing Club website yesterday. One read: "Lairig's such a close-knit group of people, it's unbelievable when something like this happens."

Another said: "Tragic news and still hasn't really sunk in yet. Lifetime of adventures ahead of them but sadly it was not to be."

One student suggested holding an expedition in the memory of the two climbers.

Another said: "We love the freedom of the wild and we love the mountains, but every so often they and the weather turn on us."