Mountain Rescue Magazine Winter 2021

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member who, ‘moving like a frog up the heather and rocks’, carried Tom twenty metres up the steep slope to the waiting stretcher. He was then strapped to the stretcher and carried off the hill reaching the road around 3.10am. From here he was taken by road ambulance to Stirling Royal Infirmary where he arrived at 4.30am. Over the next few days, he experienced excruciating pain from his various injuries and was told it would be several months before he could climb again. However, his progress surpassed all expectations and he was out and about gentle walking within a few weeks. Unfortunately, this was not the end of matters. The incident was reported widely in the press and, over the next few weeks and months, Tom’s rescue was the subject of much discussion by the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland (MRCofS) with correspondence toing and froing between the Lomond team, the SMC and the MRCofS. Questions were raised about poor casualty care, use of a broken stretcher, the length and timing of the operation and, in particular, whether the Lomond team had been actively bypassed in favour of the SMC group. An accident report was prepared the day following the accident, by Stanley Smith the team secretary, and submitted to Ben Humble who was the then accident collator for the MRCofS. In his very lengthy report, Stanley commented that ‘a marked feature of the whole operation was the reluctance of the organisers to use the services of the district mountain rescue team. Until the SMC group came to realise on Ben A’An that the two Lomond MRT members knew their business, the team was kept at arm’s length, it having been made clear early on that the team’s stretcher was required but not the team.’ Stanley raised a number of other matters. Bearing in mind the length of time between Tom’s fall and his arrival at hospital many hours later, he estimated that had the Lomond team been involved from the beginning, Tom Weir would have received hospital care some two to three hours earlier. Also, he would not have been carried off the hill on a broken stretcher, nor carried part way on someone’s back. It does seem extraordinary that given the availability of a bespoke mountain stretcher, someone with a broken pelvis and ribs should be carried up the steep slope by a person. Indeed, when Stanley Smith visited Tom in hospital the following day, Tom described the agonising pain he felt being carried on someone’s back. In his report summary, Stanley commented, ‘While it is understandable that the first thought of the members of the SMC would be for themselves to succour their old friend and fellow member after his accident and injury, it surely needs to be brought out in some way that the services of the local mountain rescue team can hardly be other than the most effective means available for

getting casualties safely and rapidly off the mountain and down to road transport. The team is trained, equipped and organised for this purpose, on immediate call, located in the mountain area and in close liaison with the police and other local bodies.’ As accident collator for the MRCofS, Ben Humble was extremely fastidious and placed great store in detail and accuracy. His initial reaction on receiving the incident report was to question the timing of events. He questioned why the operation had taken so long, suggesting that the ‘attempt to bypass the MR team caused much delay’. He reasoned that, had the Lomond team been alerted directly by Leonard from the forester’s house then the rescue could have been completed several hours earlier. Stanley Smith agreed with this. Knowing the team’s experience of rescues on Ben A’An, he reasoned that had the team been called at, say, 9.00pm then Tom Weir would have been at the roadhead just after midnight and in hospital around 1.00am, much earlier than actually happened. It is important to add that the exact time of the incident noted by Stanley Smith in his report (8.00 to 8.30pm) may have been wrong. TomWeir said it was 9.30pm. In addition to the timing of events, Ben also sought further information on the broken stretcher. He was extremely perturbed to learn that a MacInnes stretcher in such poor condition had found its way onto the hill. Stanley Smith reported that this particular stretcher, a MacInnes MkII, was owned by Montrose House, which operated as an outdoor centre for the Glasgow Union of Boys Clubs. Over the years, it had been used by various organisations, including army personnel, and had clearly suffered from rough treatment. Stanley added that on his visit to see Tom Weir the day after the accident, he noticed the stretcher was still at the hospital. On inspection he saw that it was indeed the Montrose House stretcher and in a bad state of repair. He reckoned it was probably uplifted on the evening of the rescue and then taken to Ben A’An by one of the SMC rescue party members. He said that whoever uplifted this stretcher would have driven through Drymen on two occasions and therefore passed by the Lomond team’s post which housed the team’s equipment including a new MacInnes stretcher. The SMC expressed some disquiet with the team’s incident report. After examining the information, Donald Bennet, the then secretary of the SMC, wrote to Stanley Smith: ‘As there are several discrepancies between your report and the one I submitted, I am writing to you in the hope of clarifying this matter. Your report is critical of the way in which this incident was handled by T. Weir’s companion L. Lovat and other members of the SMC team which turned out that night.’ In particular, Donald Bennet queried the timing of events. He was of the view that Tom fell at 9.30pm and Leonard Lovat

telephoned for help at 10.10pm. This time difference makes sense since it takes no more than 30 minutes to descend from the summit to the roadhead. But Stanley Smith’s report indicated that the incident took place at 8.00pm and the team then received a phone call from Drymen police office at 9.45pm. Donald Bennet disagreed and said the team was wrong in saying it received a call at 9.45pm as this was only fifteen minutes after Tom’s fall and Leonard had yet to descend and phone for help. Donald Bennet went on to add that the lost time in calling SMC members rather than the team was, at most, 40 minutes. He commented on two other matters. He made it clear that when the SMC requested a stretcher only and not team members, it did not imply the team was not wanted, but merely that it was not needed. He confirmed there were nine SMC members on the hill and that some had considerable mountain rescue experience. In regard to the carrying of Tom on a club member’s back, he said that ‘this was done under the strict supervision of a doctor who has had experience of skiing and climbing accidents, and I am certain that, if he had thought that the method of carrying Tom Weir up to the stretcher would result in aggravating his injuries, he would not have permitted it.’ The correspondence and reports from the time show that the MRCofS found itself in a difficult position trying to explain and resolve different explanations about the timing of the incident and why certain things took place. At the time, the chair of the MRCofS was Eric Langmuir (also Principal of Glenmore Lodge). It was fortuitous that Eric’s vast mountaineering experience and pragmatic style led to a suitable conclusion. He commented that the MRCofS was reluctant to act as a court of law in the matter but it was quite clear that ‘an attempt had been made to avoid official channels and hush up the whole business.’ He concluded that no good would come from direct confrontation with those involved, and that the key principle for everyone to note with all mountain accidents was ‘that the most efficient help should be sought immediately.’ The accuracy of whether or not the SMC actively chose to avoid the Lomond MRT is something which is now lost in the mists of time. Most of those involved in the incident are long gone. It is possible that the extraordinarily long time it took to rescue Tom Weir 1 , together with subsequent interpretations over timing and equipment was symptomatic of the revolution taking place in rescue provision at the time. In 1970, mountain rescue was still undergoing significant change and development. As most readers will know, for several decades, rescues had been actioned primarily by local people — members of climbing clubs, police officers, GPs, farm workers and walkers. In some areas, established climbing clubs had responsibility for incidents in their area. In

1 The time from Tom’s accident to his arrival in hospital was around 8 hours. Had the accident taken place today, then given the use of mobile communications and the availability of swift SAR helicopter provision, the time period would not have been much more than 90 minutes! ✒ 57



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