Castleford hiker died in blizzard trying to lead group to safety

Graham Connell
Graham Connell

An experienced Castleford hillwalker plunged to his death after trying to lead others to safety during a blizzard in the Scottish Highlands, an inquest heard.

Graham Connell, 31, suffered fatal chest and abdominal injuries after falling 150m in the Jacob’s Ladder area of the Cairngorms last Feburary.

Mr Connell was leading a group of seven walkers from the Leeds University Union Hiking Club back down the Fiaciall Couloir mountain to the safety of their base after the weather deteriorated rapidly.

An inquest at Wakefield Coroner’s Court heard Mr Connell stepped on an unsafe cornice of snow overhanging the mountain on Sunday, February 10, 2013.

He fell and tried unsuccessfully tried to dig his ice picks in to the snow but he slipped and fell out of sight.

The inquest heard his body was found by a mountain rescue team at 12.30pm the following day.

The group, which was being led Mr Connell and a man called Eliot Bianco, became disorientated in a blizzard and high winds, which were pushing them off course.

One of the group stepped on overhanging snow, which collapsed causing the hiker to fall. The hiker later managed to return to the group.

West Yorkshire Coroner David Hinchliff said the group decided to set up an emergency storm shelter and made an emergency call on a mobile phone just after 2pm on the Sunday.

The inquest heard Mr Bianco felt unable to continue as a group leader and Mr Connell took over leadership of the entire group.

When conditions and visibility improved, Mr Connell was attempting to lead the group off the ridge to safety when, after around 20 minutes, he stepped on overhanging snow and fell.

Mr Connell had been a member of Leeds University Hiking Club for 13 years and was the club’s most experienced member.

A post-mortem concluded he died of chest and abdominal injuries.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, West Yorkshire Coroner David Hinchliff said: “I’m entirely satisfied that Graham’s death was accidentally sustained while in the course of leading that party in the Cairngorms in February 2013.

“He has stepped on to an unsafe cornice of snow which has given way, causing him to fall. I agree entirely with the Scottish authorities that this was a tragic and unfortunate accident.”