Snow and Avalanche Center 2009 Avalanche News

Climbers in Avalanche saved by propeller of crashed plane
Torridon fall halted by wreckage prevents further plunge of 1,200ft

By Jane Candlish - 07/05/2009

Two climbers caught in an avalanche on a Wester Ross peak were saved when they hit the propeller of a Lancaster bomber which had crashed on the mountain 58 years ago.

Ian Parnell and Jon Winter were roped together climbing Beinn Eighe, Torridon, in December when the avalanche was triggered, sending both men hurtling down the mountain.

Mr Parnell, 40, of Sheffield, hit the plane’s propeller, stopping their fall.

The Lancaster crashed into the mountain on March 13, 1951, during a reconnaissance flight, killing all eight crewmen on board.

The lucky escape emerged as the Scottish Avalanche Information Service revealed for the first time the number of reported avalanches in the Highlands over the winter.

Mr Parnell, a climber who has made significant ascents in the Himalayas, Alaska, Kyrgyzstan, Greenland and Patagonia, said he and Mr Winter, 44, were trying to establish a new climbing route when the incident happened in Fuselage Gully, named after the aircraft wreckage.

Mr Parnell said: “We got about 50ft above the plane when the snow around me started to move. I tried to swim to the side of the gully but I was swept down by huge slabs of snow.

“I remember thinking that if I hit the propeller we won’t go over the cliff and drop 1,200ft.

“Jon was hit by the avalanche as well and was buried in it but the fact we were roped together and me hitting the propeller prevented us from having a long ride down.

“Eventually the battering of snow finished and I found myself wrapped around the 8ft long propeller blades. My back was torn and my left arm hurt, but pain never felt so good.

“It all happened in seconds but again I remember having this odd thought that I was thankful the plane had crashed because it had saved our lives. The tragic misfortune of those eight airmen was our good luck.”

Mr Parnell said he had since returned to Beinn Eighe twice and completed the new route he and Mr Winter set out to do.

He said he called it Bruised Violet after the colour of his injured arm.

Avalanche service co-ordinator, Mark Diggins, said: “It is astonishing to think that those men lost their lives on that plane and yet it saved someone’s life in the future.”

The agency produces avalanche risk reports for climbers in the five main mountain areas – Lochaber, Creag Meagaidh, Glencoe, South Cairngorms and North Cairngorms.

It recorded 112 avalanches between December 1 and April 19, including 21 involving climbers.

Three men died after an avalanche on Buachaille Etive Mor in January.

Mr Diggins said the total was in line with previous years but he added that the avalanche service needed the public’s help in recording avalanches in the future.

He said: “I feel it is important that people understand that avalanches do happen.

“People think it is a rare thing and that being avalanched is bad luck. But most avalanches are triggered by people.”

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