'Lessons must be learned' as 63 teen army cadets rescued from mountain
A war hero said lessons must be learned after 63 young army cadets were rescued from the Mourne Mountains in an emergency which saw several teenagers being stretchered off the mountain range.
The major incident involved 10 emergency teams rushing to the mountains in Co Down when the group of 63 people - some as young as 12 - got into difficulties when the weather turned treacherous.
The group from the Cleveland Army Cadet Force in England were only two days into their two-week trip to Northern Ireland and were taking part in routine training.
The alarm was raised shortly after 11am yesterday and the Coast Guard, NI Ambulance Service and helicopter crews were called to the scene in the lower regions of the Annalong Valley.
While 56 of the group were guided off the hill and taken to a nearby community hall, seven young people were treated by paramedics at the scene.
Some four of the cadets were treated for hypothermia and exposure.
Five suffered ankle injuries after slipping, the British Ministry of Defence said.
The Mourne Mountain Rescue team said in a statement: "Seven of the group were stretchered as a precaution due to minor injuries and conditions.
"Three have already been transferred to ambulances while another four are en route.
"The team have recently been joined by members of the PSNI search and rescue team and the North West team to assist.
"The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service put in place its major incident plan to support the team with ambulance resources.
"The incident remains within standard procedures and in the complete control of the various services in attendance."
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie was awarded the Military Cross for bravery in Afghanistan.
"It was such a large group of army cadets up the mountain and then the weather turned so nasty maybe they were caught on the hop," he said.
"Yes, there are lessons to be learned from this but they weren't doing anything you wouldn't expect army cadets to be doing.
"They are vulnerable people and we do have to look after them.
"In hindsight and having seen what happened, you would of course say no, it wasn't a good idea for the group to go up the mountain.
"But when they take young people to places like the Mourne Mountains they do a very detailed risk assessment and make sure that they have very detailed plans in operation and would have evacuation plans in place as well.
"I have worked with them on multiple occasions and fully understand what they do and why they do it and what they are trying to achieve.
"They could have been doing some navigation, learning how to live out in the field, doing some camping or team-building and personal development."
The children and cadet leaders were brought to safety at around 3pm.
SDLP MLA Colin McGrath wished all those involved or injured in the mountain rescue a speedy recovery.
"The entire incident does underscore the importance of having full respect for the mountains and how weather conditions can change and worsen in an instant and how groups need to have rigorous safety/exit plans from the mountains contained in their planning," he said.
"As a former youth worker, I can understand that it is your worst nightmare having responsibility for other people's children when things go wrong - but it is important to acknowledge even the best prepared plans cannot take account for swift weather changes."