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‘Don’t go mountain walking alone during pandemic’ warning after rescue terror

05 Mar 2021 6 minutes Read
Photo by Neil Mark Thomas on Unsplash

Police have warned people not to go walking in the mountains alone during the Covid-19 pandemic after a 15 minute stroll turned into a “terrifying” six hour ordeal for one walker.

The experienced hiker, who said she is usually prepared for all eventualities, has thanked Dyfed-Powys Police and Western Beacons Mountain Rescue Team for finding her when she thought all hope was lost.

The 50-year-old, who has asked to remain anonymous, has shared her experience to urge people not to assume walking in isolation is a safe way to exercise during COVID-19 restrictions after her actions put officers and volunteers at risk.

“Everything that could go wrong did go wrong on that day, and I’m just the luckiest person in the world to be here today,” she said.

“The really hard part to come to terms with is that I’m so aware of the dangers of the mountain. I’ve always been aware of how easy it is to get lost, and I had to admit I was one of those people who went out unprepared.

“Not only did I put myself at risk, but I put the police and mountain rescue team in danger too. For them to have to come out in those conditions to look for me, but also with the risk of COVID just made me feel so guilty.”

The mother-of-two had headed out for a quick dog walk on the Black Mountain near Brynamman, leaving behind the safety bag she usually carries for a longer hike. With it, she’d have been prepared with a phone charger, food, water and other supplies in case of an emergency.

Parking in a familiar spot, she began walking a route they’d covered many times before. Unaware that there was a weather warning in place, she was quickly caught out by forceful wind and torrential rain.

“I tried to turn back to the car, but the wind physically knocked me over,” she said. “That happened a few times, and totally disoriented me.

“Then the rain started, and it was hitting my face like bullets. I was trying to get back to the car, but I just couldn’t find it.

“After a while, we hit a boggy area, which I knew from previous walks was nowhere near the car.

“That’s when I realised we weren’t going to get back.”

‘Black’

By 6pm, she was unable to see more than a few metres, and with her phone battery down to 19 per cent she knew she had to call for help.

Hunkering down in a hole to protect herself from the elements, she checked the What Three Words app, which generates three words to allow users to share their precise location, and dialled 999.

However, she had no idea that due to poor mobile signal, the location generated by the app was inaccurate – sending police and mountain rescue volunteers in the wrong direction.

“I got up every few minutes so I didn’t get hypothermia, and shouted ‘hello’ in case anyone was around,” she said.

“I couldn’t see a thing. Everything below was pitch black, and above was thick fog.

“I phoned 999 again to tell them I was still where I’d said I was. They sent a link to find my GPS coordinates, but my phone just wouldn’t load it.

“I checked the What Three Words app again and realised I was in a completely different place to where they thought I was.

“Then the call cut out.”

‘Screaming’

A few minutes later she received a call from mountain rescue – just as her phone battery died.

She walked out into the open to be more visible, but the terrain was rough, and visibility so poor that she was forced to give up.

“In the short distance we walked, I fell over so many times, and couldn’t risk continuing,” she said.

“In the end we just laid down on the grass. I thought we were going to die there.”

Eventually, she heard a slight noise, but couldn’t work out where it was coming from. Then she saw a tiny light in the distance.

“I grabbed the dog and just started running towards it,” she said.

“By that point I was screaming and shouting, and suddenly there were more lights. One of their torches had caught a flash from the dog’s eyes, otherwise they wouldn’t have seen me.

“I thought ‘we’re going to live’, and had this overwhelming relief that I would see my kids again.”

‘Mistake’

After a 40 minute walk back to the road in treacherous conditions, she was finally on her way home – six hours after leaving her car.

Describing it as the most terrifying ordeal of her life, she has shared her experience as a stark reminder of the dangers of mountain walking and how quickly conditions can change.

“The whole time I was thinking ‘why didn’t I bring my bag?’” she said. “It’s the biggest mistake I’ve ever made.

“I was like one of those prats I shout at on the news for climbing Snowdon in flip flops. It will never, ever happen again, and I will forever be grateful to the police and volunteers who put their lives at risk to save mine.

“If anyone takes anything from my story, please let it be that they won’t make the same mistake I did.”

‘Risk’

Sergeant Dylan Davies, of Dyfed-Powys Police, said: “The conditions on this particular evening were absolutely treacherous, and we as police were forced to call off our search.

“Our thanks go to the Western Beacons Mountain Rescue Team who were able to continue, and who managed to find her despite all odds.

“In reminding people of the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic we are often asked what the risk is of walking in isolation where people are unlikely to come into contact with others. This incident is evidence that while you might think you are safe, you could well end up putting yourself and others at risk.”

Mountain Rescue Teams can be requested in an emergency by calling 999 and first asking for police. The incident will be assessed, and if appropriate directed to the nearest MRT.

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