A 400ft-wide wall of snow that swept down the steep and rocky Chalamain Gap is believed to have been triggered by the RAF team. It engulfed Squadron Leader Rimon Than who was taking part in a training exercise, four miles from Glenmore Lodge.
A woman in the RAF party also died.
Squadron Leader Than, a senior medical officer at RAF Valley in North Wales, was the first victim to be named by Northern Constabulary yesterday. He was part of an RAF Mountaineering Association team taking part in a climbing expedition.
Inspector Murdo MacLeod said two parties of six were on opposite sides of the Chalamain Gap when a wave of snow about 10ft deep swamped the two RAF climbers and then hit the man taking part in the training exercise, shortly after 12:30pm on Thursday. Police received a 999 call within minutes from one of the surviving climbers from the Glenmore Lodge party and a rescue operation was launched.
It involved more than 50 rescuers, including members from the Cairngorm and RAF Lossiemouth mountain rescue teams, search and rescue dogs and two RAF helicopters. Within two hours, they had recovered the casualties buried in the snow. They were flown to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, but were later pronounced dead.
Insp MacLeod said: “Clearly, this is a very tragic incident. Our thoughts are with the families.”
Bob Kinnaird, of Glenmore Lodge, said: “This was a tragic incident. The rescuers responded professionally and did everything possible to deal with this terrible episode.”
He said all those taking part in the course at the lodge had been experienced and were enhancing their winter climbing skills when the tragedy occurred. Training exercises were temporarily suspended, but will resume today.
Cairngorm mountain rescue team leader Willie Anderson said: “These people were
desperately unlucky. Some-times these avalanches spontaneously happen, although sometimes they are caused by mountaineers.”
Insp MacLeod confirmed that the avalanche was triggered on the south side of the gap, where the RAF team were climbing.
Mr Than was born in Burma and had initially joined the Royal Air Force as a medical cadet in 2001. He was part of a small British military team that conquered a previously unclimbed 18,504ft Chinese peak in dangerous conditions recently.
Group Captain Adrian Hill, his station commander, said: “Sqn Ldr Rimon Than was the senior medical officer at RAF Valley and was a fine, dedicated officer and doctor. He was passionate about mountaineering and his death is a tragedy.”
The latest tragedy brings the death toll on Scotland’s hills this year to nine.