Death in Mournes

Death in Mournes

6 January 2021

A MAN died while walking in the Mournes on New Year’s Eve.

Mark Elliott (44), who was from Portadown, is believed to have suffered a heart attack while descending the Donard Commedagh Saddle.

The tragedy occurred a day after Mr Elliott, a father-of-one and an experienced walker, had celebrated his first wedding anniversary.

A spokesperson from the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team confirmed they received a request for help just before 2pm on Thursday “regarding a medical emergency”.

The spokesperson said other walkers stopped to provide help, with nearby team members responding, followed by a response from the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance and further team members.

“Despite the best efforts of all those involved, the walker was pronounced deceased at the scene,” the spokesperson continued.

“Other members of the walker’s group were escorted off the mountain while the deceased was recovered by the team on stretcher to road access.”

Police, the Coastguard and the Rescue Helicopter 199 also provided assistance during the tragedy.

Mr Elliott, who was described as a “gentle giant with a heart to match”, had been mountain walking with his wife on Boxing Day.

The incident was one of several which occurred in the Mournes during the Christmas and New Year period.

Last Wednesday alone, December 30, mountain rescue volunteers responded to a total of five call-outs.

Three walkers got into difficulty on the summit of Slieve Donard, while two separate parties experienced difficulties on Slieve Binnian.

One walker suffered a leg injury and another person became unwell while walking at the Donard Commedagh Saddle.

On Saturday the team were asked to assist a party of walkers, one of whom had become unwell at the summit of Slieve Meelmore.

Team coordinators contacted the party and established that her person was most likely suffering from the combined effects of exertion and cold temperatures. 

Conditions were severe with sheet ice on paths, a bitter wind chill and intermittent poor visibility.

On December 29 rescue volunteers received a request for assistance from two stranded walkers.

The walkers had been on Doan when weather and visibility deteriorated, leaving them completely disoriented. The team responded and, with the help of smart phone technology, located the party in the vicinity of the Blue Lough.

The previous day the team received a request to assist a woman who had become unwell while climbing Slieve Donard.

A team member who happened to be in the vicinity was able to offer immediate support and was shortly afterwards assisted by a second team member who came upon the scene. 

The two team members were able to provide shelter and additional insulation to the stricken walker. With the help of other walkers they were able to assist her to start a descent.

The past year has been the busiest ever for the Mountain Rescue Team, with more than 60 call-outs in 2020.

Co-ordinator Neville Watson said the Covid lockdowns had played a part in increasing the attractiveness of the Mournes.

“With Covid and with other forms of exercise not being available — we’ve seen a very significant increase in the numbers of people using the Mournes and the general area for leisure purposes,” he said.”

“There will be some people who have less experience and less of an understanding about possible risks. Even just the sheer numbers means that the more people there are, the more likely it is that a proportion of those people will get into difficulties.”

Mr Watson offered the following advice to mountain walkers — plan carefully, be prepared and stay safe.

“Be sure you’ve told people where you are going; check the weather; ensure your phone is charged,” Mr Watson said.

“There’s nothing wrong with a sense of adventure — but be sure you aren’t taking risks you cannot handle, especially in the winter conditions we have at present.”

Sinn Féin MLA Emma Rogan has urged mountain walkers to exercise caution this winter.

‘Given the harsh winter conditions, I am urging the public to avoid placing themselves at unnecessary and avoidable risk,” she said.

“If you do not have the appropriate experience, knowledge and equipment for mountain walking in the winter, then please substitute the exercise for one that is more safe.”

She added: “The Mourne Mountains are an area of outstanding natural beauty that are enjoyed by many. However, mountain walking in the winter does pose difficult and unpredictable challenges.

“I want to thank the Mourne Rescue Team for their efforts to keep mountain walkers safe.”