Avalanche Survivor Leapt To Safer Ground

A survivor of an avalanche that killed four climbers in the Scottish Highlands escaped by leaping from the collapsing sheet of snow and wedging his ice pick into firmer ground.

The man, who did not want to be named, said in a statement: "All in the group loved the mountains and are experienced winter walkers.

"My sincere thanks goes to the members of the public, mountain rescue teams and other emergency services who assisted."

PhD students Christopher Bell and Tom Chesters, and junior doctor Una Finnegan, were swept 1,000ft (305m) to their deaths while descending from a mountain in Glencoe on Saturday afternoon.

A second woman also killed in the accident was later named as Dr Rachel Majumdar, 29, who worked at Harrogate District Hospital.

Dr Majumdar was originally from Merseyside, but was most recently living in Leeds. Her next of kin had asked for her name to be withheld until her extended family were informed.

Friends of the group said Mr Chesters and Dr Majumdar had been dating for several years and had "such a good future together".

Another survivor, a 24-year-old woman, remains in a critical condition after suffering severe head injuries.

She is being treated at Glasgow's Southern General Hospital, where she was flown after initially being treated at Belford Hospital in Fort William.

Friends have been paying tribute to the three young climbers killed.

Mr Bell, 24, from Blackpool, Lancashire, was studying for a PhD in ocean mapping in Oban, while 28-year-old Mr Chesters had been living in Leeds and working towards his qualification at Hull University.

Their friend Sam Morris, 35, said both were elite outdoor pursuits competitors who spent most of their free time on the mountains.

"It was so few years lived but I know there's not much either one of them would have done differently," he said.

"They seized every opportunity. They'd do things that people who spend their whole lives sitting behind a desk wish they could have done.

"When they died they were with the people they loved, doing what they loved."

Ms Finnegan, 25, who was living in Edinburgh, was originally from Coleraine in Co Londonderry.

Independent councillor David McClarty said his thoughts and prayers were with the Finnegan family.

"This young woman, a qualified doctor, had her whole life ahead of her and then it is tragically cut short.

"The family is a Christian one and hopefully they will get some comfort from the fact that she died doing something she enjoyed."

The tragedy struck at about 2pm as the group of six made their descent on Bidean Nam Bian.

A major search operation was launched involving both Glencoe and Lochaber mountain rescue teams, and specialist police dogs.

Andy Nelson, deputy head of Glencoe Mountain Rescue, who co-ordinated the rescue, said the avalanche would have unfolded in "a split second".

"Being in an avalanche is literally like standing on a carpet and having it pulled out from underneath you. Any thoughts of trying to swim out from out of it is futile," he said.

"You are on steep ground, essentially standing on a raft of snow that is sliding downhill at speeds of maybe 40mph to 50mph.

"It would have unfolded in a split second, they would have felt the snow moving and then they would have been travelling at a speed that was impossible to stop.

"The man that survived was standing above the snow and we think he actually jumped and got his ice axe into firmer snow.

"They slid over some very rocky ground and ended up about 1,000 feet below, under between 1.5 and two metres of snow.

"It's a brutal experience. There are enormous forces at work and you are being twisted about at high speed," he added.