A mountain rescue team has been left ‘in tears’ after experiencing their ‘worst rescue’ when one of the team members fell 150m.
Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team were called to help two men who had travelled hundreds of miles in breach of coronavirus restrictions, to camp overnight on a 780-metre (2,500ft) fell in near-freezing conditions on Red Screes, Kirkstone.
The incident, which happened in the early hours of Saturday, February 6, saw the two hikers, from Leicester and Liverpool, call for help after one of them experienced chest pains.
One member of the rescue team, who has now been named as 60-year-old Chris Lewis, slipped and fell 150 metres (490 feet) whilst trying to get to the pair.
He suffered serious injuries to his spine and facial fractures, which have been described as “life changing”.
His team at Patterdale Mountain Rescue are still coming to terms with the incident, which they heartbreakingly described as ‘avoidable’.
Speaking to the BBC, Martin Cotterell of Patterdale Mountain Rescue said: “When you’re out there in the middle of the night, you know you have to be a team you have to look after each other and when something happens to one of your own, it’s really tough.”
Mike Blakey of Patterdale Mountain Rescue said: “They had two people that we went to rescue and they’d breached Covid regulations, they shouldn’t have been camping and that’s the simple fact. But I do think this was avoidable.
“I’ve done this for 25 years. I’ll honestly say this is the worst rescue and I’ve seen some things in my time and you never really expect to have to rescue one of your own.
“You know I’ve had my own share of tears this week, I can see it in other people’s eyes as well.”
Chris was someone that the team looked up to, said rescuer Ben Hammond.
He said: “He’s a very experienced member of the team and absolutely knows what he’s doing, he was someone to look up to on the team when you’re out there on the hill.
“Certainly his injuries are life changing for him, yeah.”
Martin added: “They are really serious injuries, I mean my heart goes out to him, I just cannot, cannot believe what’s going through his mind at the moment. Really, really tough.”
Mike has been in contact with Chris since the accident, where they discussed him now needing a wheelchair.
He said: “I’ve had the chance to FaceTime Chris and you know he’s having conversations with me already about where are we going to go in the wheelchair.”
Despite the two hikers breaking coronavirus rules, Martin said his team is not there to judge.
He said: “We’re not there to judge, we’re there to help. You know we all love the fells, we’re all mountaineers, we go out there because we think we can help people when they’re in difficulty and trying to judge just isn’t our role.”
A JustGiving page to raise funds in order to provide support for Chris that he will need for the rest of his life.
So far the page has raised more than £15,000.
A local woman called Kate, who set up the page, said: “Because I’m a local and I’ve lived here all my life, I was because we’re such a tight-knit small community that it really hit home when it happened.
“Local people were quite angry about it to be honest because it didn’t really have to happen, they shouldn’t have been here in the first place so I just thought something positive needs to try and be done to offset the negativity that was felt around this so I just thought I’m going to set up this JustGiving page really.”
Martin added: “Whatever gets thrown at us, you have to know people really well, we have to be able to trust each other, understand each other and you know the team has to be strong because if somebody’s at the top of a rope lowering you over the edge of a cliff, you really need to know each other and trust their skills and abilities.”
The incident has made the team reflect on what they do.
Mike said: “I’ve had a conversation with my partner about ‘is this time to retire from the rescue team? I’ve done 25 years, do I want to kind of carry on knowing that the risk is more in your face?’ But you know at the minute, we’re carrying on.”
Chris remains in intensive care.
You can donate to the online JustGiving page here.