Wednesday 29 March 2017

Rescuers ski to stranded drivers in mountain drama

Anne Fitzgerald of Wicklow Mountain Rescue speaks to RTE after the dramatic rescue near the Sally Gap yesterday
Anne Fitzgerald of Wicklow Mountain Rescue speaks to RTE after the dramatic rescue near the Sally Gap yesterday
Jason O'Brien

Jason O'Brien

Even the Milk Tray man would baulk at this one.

Four men, stranded in the Wicklow Mountains overnight after their jeeps got stuck in snow, were eventually reached by two mountain rescuers yesterday morning after the pair put on skis to deliver hot tea and chocolate.

"We're claiming it to be Ireland's first ski rescue, we hope it is," Anne Fitzgerald of Wicklow Mountain Rescue said yesterday, after the four men were safely airlifted off the mountain a short time later.

Among those rescued was Richard Fleming (42) from the Curragh in Kildare, who had been travelling home from south Dublin along the M50 on Tuesday afternoon when a lengthy tailback because of a snow blizzard persuaded him to take a route through Kilternan.

By 5pm he was lost somewhere near the Sally Gap, his Range Rover stuck in snow-covered bogland.

A short time later two other vehicles, with three occupants in total, were stuck nearby.

"We tried to dig our way out until about 11o'clock that night, and we got maybe two kilometres up the road, and that was it -- it was getting too wet and the snow was like a blizzard," said Mr Fleming, who works in the stone business.


"My legs had started to freeze, so I had to get back to the car, take off my wet clothes and warm up using the heaters.

"One of the lads got a wetsuit and a tarpaulin from his car, and he cut the sleeves out of the wetsuit so I could pull them over my legs, and then I wrapped the tarpaulin around me."

Luckily, they had a phone signal, despite the Sally Gap being notoriously patchy for mobiles.

But two separate roads the rescuers attempted to travel up were impassable despite them using specialist vehicles and techniques.

In the early hours of yesterday morning, the team changed tack and came in by a western approach, eventually reaching a spot about three miles from the stranded motorists.

Two of the more advanced rescuers had to ski the rest of the way carrying special "blizzard bags" with thermal insulation gear and food, arriving at 7am.

A little later, the four men had to walk a short distance before an Irish Coast Guard helicopter airlifted them, unharmed, to Blessington.

"We are not 100pc sure, but unless someone else puts their head up and says otherwise, we believe it's a first ski rescue," Ms Fitzgerald said.

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