Climber plunges to death after helicopter rescue 'rope cut'

Claims that Mark Phillips survived 50m Ben Nevis fall but died as RAF team tried to winch him to safety

LAST UPDATED AT 11:48 ON Thu 28 Feb 2013

A POLICE investigation has been launched into the death of a climber who died on Ben Nevis after the safety rope being used to winch him onto an RAF rescue helicopter was apparently cut by mistake.

Mark Phillips was still alive after falling 50 metres down the rock wall of Raeburn's Buttress, on the Scottish mountain's north face. But the 51-year-old climber is believed to have died after falling again during his rescue. A safety line being used by the crew of a Sea King helicopter dispatched from RAF Lossiemouth to rescue him was "severed before he was securely on board", The Independent reports. A safety rope helped save Phillips's life during the initial fall, it says.

After the incident, the RAF helicopter was grounded and a Royal Navy aircraft from HMS Gannet at Prestwick recovered Phillips's body. Police are due to interview the helicopter crew and members of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team.

A climber who helped in Monday's rescue effort told The Times that the accident came down to "basic human error". The witness, who asked not to be named, said that there was "widespread sympathy" for the crew of the helicopter who had a distinguished record and had served in "hundreds of successful operations".

The Ministry of Defence described accounts of Phillips's death as a rescue mission gone wrong as "speculation". A spokesman said: "We can confirm that two military search and rescue helicopters were sent to assist in an operation to rescue a fallen climber on Ben Nevis, who sadly died. An investigation by Northern Constabulary is under way."

The climber's widow, Caroline Phillips, said her husband had been taking advantage of "superb conditions" in the mountains when tragedy struck. She said she was aware of speculation over the exact cause of her husband's death but had full confidence in the police investigation. · 

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