Published: 00:01, 08 January 2015
Two climbers have described the terrifying moment a “tsunami” of snow and ice hit them during an avalanche on a Scottish mountain.
James Byrne, from Kings Hill, was climbing number four gully of the Scottish mountain, with Kevin Finlon, from Newington, Christian Butler, from Rainham, and Anthony Bourne, from Wigmore, when what he called a “huge tsunami” of snow and ice hit them.
The party was swept hundreds of feet down Ben Nevis and left covered in snow and struggling to breathe.
They had been climbing with a guide, and were near the summit of Britain’s highest mountain when the avalanche struck.
An RAF rescue helicopter was scrambled to rescue the group, but they escaped with minor injuries.
Mr Byrne said: “The whole thing just exploded and that was it. There was nothing we could do.
“We were just ripped down the mountain. The snow and ice asphyxiated you. You couldn’t breathe. It was dark.
“All you can feel is yourself plummeting down the mountain. I just thought ‘this is it, there’s no way you’re coming out of this" - James Byrne
“All you can feel is yourself plummeting down the mountain. I just thought ‘this is it, there’s no way you’re coming out of this’. You’re trying to survive and get out. I thought about my family.
“I could see the flashlight on my friend Kevin’s helmet and I tried to grab him but I couldn’t. I even felt him go over the top of me a couple of times but there’s so much snow on top of you you’re powerless. It’s so fast and encompassing; it’s incredible.
“My life was flashing before my eyes. You don’t hear of people walking out of an avalanche.”
Moments later they were 'spat out' at the bottom.
He added: “It’s hard to say how long we were in it for. There was a lot of speed.
“Kevin and I came to rest together more or less, Chris was about 50ft up from us and Anthony and the guide were further down.
“It’s a terrifying experience and not one I want to live through again. Once is enough.”
An emergency medical team from Paisley was mobilised along with Glencoe Mountain Rescue and a ski patrol team from Aonach Mor. An RAF rescue helicopter from Lossiemouth was also scrambled to take the rescue team up the mountain but is was not needed.
Remarkably, Christian walked away uninjured, James had slight neck pain, Anthony suffered a leg injury and Kevin badly sprained both his ankles.
The men, all aged 49, returned home on Monday, January 5, the day after their ordeal.
Kevin Finlon says he and his three friends are “counting our blessings”.
“I thought if I got out alive I would at least be disabled because I felt my legs touching the back of my head" - Kevin Finlan
The married father-of-three, of Iwade Road, Newington, said: “I just thought ‘that’s it, it’s all over’.
“I thought if I got out alive I would at least be disabled because I felt my legs touching the back of my head.
“It just went dark then you would see a bit of light. Then you felt like you were being crushed.
“About half way down I was aware James was beside me because he had a red coat on, then I lost sight of him and I was on my own.
“I was thinking of things to do like, I heard you can try and swim out of it which I tried but then it came to a stop.
“Then we were worried about another avalanche. The night before we did a talk about them so we were aware we had to get out of the way.”
Mr Finlon broke the news to his wife Tracy, 47, via text.
She said: “He texted me about 4pm but I didn’t get it until about 7pm. It said: "Had a bad day. Caught in a serious avalanche but all OK. Just leaving hotel for airport. Very low battery."
“I sent one back saying ‘Are you joking?’ Then I went on Google and it came up so I rang him. It’s made me wary about him going at the end of the month but it’s up to him. He’s a grown man.”
John Stevenson, who led the rescue team, said: “Someone else who was on top of the hill phoned the police to say what happened.
“We couldn’t see them and didn’t know what condition they were in.
“We started moving all the machinery and people we needed up the hill.
“We were in the helicopter when we got the phone call to say that all five were safe.
“We got dropped off and went to speak to them. They were all fine, just shocked. It was a long way to fall. They were lucky.”
The avalanche was caused by two abseilers, who also escaped unhurt.
An RAF spokesman said: “A cornice had collapsed and witnesses saw five people swept over the side.
“Rescue 177 picked up the mountain rescue team from Lochaber and took them up there. They found five people, who were OK."
The climb was arranged by the group as a training exercise ahead of their trip to south America to climb Aconcagua mountain at the end of the month.
Divorced father-of-three Mr Byrne said: “We’re still going so we’re trying not to worry our partners.”
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