Airlift of stricken Wicklow climbers begins

Two climbers stranded for nearly 24 hours in freezing conditions on Leinster’s highest mountain were found safe and are being airlifted to hospital this afternoon.

The Irish pair were located close to the summit of Lugnaquilla in Co Wicklow after a massive ground and air operation involving Irish and British rescue teams backed by the Defence Forces.

The two men are in a stable condition, according to the Irish Defence Forces.

In one of the biggest rescues ever mounted in the area, up to 50 members of the elite Army Ranger Wing were assisted by helicopters scrambled by the Irish Coast Guard, the Air Corps and the RAF.

“The two men were located after 12.30pm in an area close to the summit known as the South Prison,” said a spokesman for the Defence Forces’ Operations Cell in the Curragh.

“An Air Corps helicopter immediately dropped medics and equipment to the scene.

“Members of the Army Rangers Wing and civilian mountain rescue personnel are currently assisting the men.

“They will be moved to lower ground and Air Corps helicopters are on standby to airlift them to hospital.”

The two climbers, who are aged in their 30s, became disorientated in freezing fog at 4pm yesterday.

They were forced to spend the night on the mountain but have remained in mobile phone contact with rescue teams.

Army Rangers with Arctic survival skills were dropped into the area from helicopters after being diverted from nearby drills in the Glen of Imaal military zone.

Teams from Co Wicklow, Co Kerry and Newcastle, Co Down also assisted the search, led by the Glen of Imaal Mountain Rescue Team.

A RAF Sea King helicopter also flew in a specialist military rescue team from RAF Valley in Wales while an Irish Coast Guard helicopter from Waterford also transported a civilian rescue unit across the Irish Sea from the Ogwen Valley.

Lugnaquilla is about 925m (3,035ft) high and its base is located close to Glenmalure, about 105km (65 miles) south of Dublin.

The RAF admitted it was unusual for its personnel to get involved in an Irish mountain rescue operation.

“It is very unusual for UK assets to deploy in this way, especially a civilian team, but when lives are at risk everyone with the expertise who can help wants to help,” said a spokesman for the RAF Rescue Centre at Kinloss in Scotland.

The RAF team was specifically trained and equipped for high Alpine rescue conditions.

The Army Rangers unit has personnel qualified in Arctic survival skills. Other local Defence Forces staff from Coolmooney Camp in the Glen of Imaal assisted rescue efforts overnight.

The alarm was raised at about 9.30pm last night by Army personnel in the Glen of Imaal.

The Coast Guard helicopter was then scrambled but was forced back from the mountain by poor visibility.

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