Friday 9 December 2016

Woman dies descending Snowdonian peak after husband used smartphone app to navigate

Published 26/08/2016 | 08:00

Goats on the Tryfan mountain
Goats on the Tryfan mountain

A university librarian was killed while descending a 3,000ft mountain after her husband used a smartphone app to navigate instead of a map, an inquest heard.

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Jane Wilson and her husband Gary were looking for a safe route off Snowdonia’s Tryfan peak at dusk when the incident happened, on March 25.

The couple, both experienced walkers, had decided not to go to climb the summit but instead, using Mr Wilson’s smartphone to guide them, headed across the mountain’s west face.

In a statement to John Gittins, the coroner for north Wales east and central, Mr Wilson said his wife went a short distance ahead of him to look for a suitable route.

“I asked ‘Is it OK? Is it safe?’ and we said we would only go if we both agreed,” he said.

Mr Wilson, of Stockport, then described how he heard a kind of exclamation, then another, followed by the sound of rock fall.

Jane Wilson, 53, who worked at Manchester University, had fallen 30ft down a vertical cliff, fracturing her skull and sustaining other severe injuries in the fall.

Realising his wife had fallen, Mr Wilson climbed to a safer ledge and raised the alarm.

He was led to safety by members of the Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Team, who later found his wife’s body 500 ft lower down.

The commercial director of Ordnance Survey advised walkers to always carry a paper map while using the OS smartphone app.

Andrew Loveless said: “We are very sorry for Mr Wilson’s loss and we extend our sympathies to him and his family.

“Due to the nature of mobile devices when navigating the real world, we will continue to encourage our customers to carry a paper version of the place they are exploring.”

Chris Lloyd, who was among the Ogwen Rescue team which responded to the call, described the route the pair had taken as “not a straightforward path”.

He said: “There are some tricky little rock steps, particularly at the top end.”

Mr Lloyd added that Tryfan is responsible for “about 30 per cent” of the incidents the Ogwen Rescue team had to attend.

"Anyone climbing the North Ridge for their first time might well be advised to go with someone who has experienced the North Ridge before,” he said.

“It is a superb scramble but can easily be hazardous to the unwary.”

Today, Andy Simpson, a spokesman for Mountain Rescue England and Wales also urged walkers to use a map and compass in addition to electronic navigation aids.

He said: “Mountain Rescue would always advocate using a map and compass to navigate, either instead of or in addition to any electronic navigation aids. Apart from potential difficulties caused by poor detail on an electronic map, batteries on mobile phones have a nasty habit of running out just when you need them most."

Speaking at the inquest, Detective Constable Tim Bird, the leader of the rescue team, said Mr Wilson had been using an Ordnance Survey app on his smartphone.

He said: “The image would have been small and not as detailed as on a proper map. There is no easy way up Tryfan but there are easier routes.”

Detective Bird said Mrs Wilson had fallen 20-30ft down a vertical cliff, then tumbled about 150 metres down into an area known as Notch arrete.

He said that although the weather was dry, the light boots worn by Mrs Wilson were not suitable for such rough terrain and she could have slipped.

After abseiling two days later down to the spot where her body was found, he said he was hit by falling rocks.

DC Bird told the hearing: “The change in route was an attempt to traverse the west face to avoid the summit. It would have been better to have retreated the way they had come or gone to the North Ridge, but unfortunately they probably saw a footpath and joined up the dots.”

The inquest was told Mrs Wilson was a fit and active woman and that she and her husband had been mountain walking and scrambling for six years.

The coroner recorded a conclusion of accidental death.

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