Prayers after four killed by 'windslab' avalanche in Glencoe

Bidean Nam Bian, Glencoe

Climbers died when an 'artificial cliff' of snow gave way below them

LAST UPDATED AT 12:38 ON Sun 20 Jan 2013

PRAYERS are being held in the Scottish highlands today after four climbers were killed by an avalanche in Glencoe as Britain's icy weather took a deadly turn.

The four, who were part of a group of six, were swept to their deaths on Bidean Nam Bian, the highest peak in Glencoe, when the snow they were walking on gave way. It is the largest loss of life in an avalanche in the area.

A fifth woman was taken to hospital in Fort William with serious head injuries and a sixth man escaped unharmed after he managed to jump clear of the avalanche. He helped raise the alarm and rescue teams later discovered the bodies of two men and two women buried beneath the snow.

Scotland's first minister Alex Salmond described the deaths as an "appalling tragedy". A memorial service was held today at St Munda's Church in Glencoe, and Rev Moira Herkes told Metro: "This is a very beautiful place, but at times it can be very dangerous."

Although there had not been a great deal of snow on Glencoe the avalanche risk was said to be "considerable" and the four climbers were killed by the collapse of a 'windslab', described by the Sunday Herald as "an unstable and dangerous crust of snow created by the wind".

Gusts from the south east had whipped up the snow on the peaks and helped create the slab. The Scotsman explained how the wind had caused "ice and snow to accumulate on the edge of a ridge creating an artificial cliff".

"A slab, which can be difficult to detect and has led to fatal accidents, is believed to have given way under the weight of the climbers causing them to fall down the side of the mountain," the paper added.

The Daily Mail reported that the party had "defied warnings about the conditions" to go out climbing and the Herald added: "At 3,500ft, Bidean Nam Bian is the highest peak in Glencoe and an area known to be susceptible to avalanches." · 

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