A couple who spent the night sheltering on the Lake District mountains may owe their lives to the plastic bivvy bag they used, rescuers said.
More than 70 volunteer rescuers were involved in the search for the pair, who had set off for a walk on Scafell Pike on Tuesday.
At one stage the operation had to be suspended because rescuers could not stand up as driving wind and rain lashed the fells.
Seven mountain rescue teams, six search dogs and handlers and a Coastguard helicopter were involved in the hunt for the walkers, who had spent 14 hours huddled in the emergency plastic survival bag. They were found cold and exhausted in Eskdale, 15 hours after first being reported missing.
Keswick Mountain Rescue Team was first called out about 6.10pm to help the Wasdale team search for a family group, including two teenage children, who were overdue on a walk between Seathwaite and Great Langdale.
Two of the Keswick team’s search dogs, along with 15 team members, searched main footpaths in the area as the weather deteriorated. A team spokesperson said: “Just as it was looking as if a major escalation was necessary, word came though that the party had turned up at Wasdale Head Hotel. Breathing a sigh of relief, the team began to withdraw from the hill.”
However, the rescuers then received word two other walkers had been reported missing on a walk up England’s highest mountain by staff at a hotel.
The Keswick team spokesperson said: “They had left no details as to their route, but had told the hotel that they would be parking at Seathwaite.
“Enquiries showed the vehicle still to be there, so the team then contacted Wasdale MRT that we would be continuing our search patterns for the previous job, and would they continue theirs?
“In the meantime, weather conditions had worsened, and visibility was minimal. Further information trickled in about the couple, who were obviously inexperienced, and not particularly well equipped for bad weather. The two teams, assisted by Duddon and Furness MRT covered as much of the ground as possible, but once conditions got to the point where team members could not stand up in the driving wind and rain, a decision was taken to stand the search down till morning.”
The search resumed at 8am on Wednesday, with seven teams, four search dogs and the Prestwick Coastguard Sikorsky S-92 joining the operation in improving conditions. The helicopter airlifted some of the rescuers higher on to the fells to start their search for the couple.
The spokesperson said: “After three hours, the couple were found in Eskdale by a member of Duddon & Furness MRT.
“They were cold, exhausted and stunned by the ferocity of the weather. They had spent 14 hours in a plastic bivvy bag, waiting for daylight and a break in the weather, before trying to walk out. Their bivvy bag may well have saved their lives.
“The S-92 flew from Keswick to pick them up, and they were then given hot food and drink to warm them up at Keswick’s base. Keswick MRT then arranged transport for them back to their hotel.
“The 70-plus rescuers in the meantime had walked down to various collection points, and transport was co-ordinated to bring many of them back to Keswick base for soup and sandwiches, provided by our wonderful WI group, who turn out to our biggest jobs to feed and water us.
“Our thanks to the crew of Rescue 999 from Prestwick, who flew in very testing conditions, and our neighbouring teams who helped us out.”
The couple’s rescue involved 22 Keswick team members and 49 volunteers from the Penrith, Cockermouth, Kirkby Stephen, Wasdale, Duddon and Furness and Langdale Ambleside teams. The team members were involved in the search for 11¼ hours.