Surviving members of the team from the time of the accident gather at the site of the tragedy. Photo: Cockermouth MRT

Surviving members of the team from the time of the accident gather at the site of the tragedy. Photo: Cockermouth MRT

Members of a Lake District rescue team gathered this weekend to mark the 50th anniversary of a tragedy in which two of its volunteers died.

Several Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team members were seriously injured in the accident, which happened during training on Low Crag in the Buttermere Valley.

On Saturday, some of the survivors of the team’s worst accident joined current members at Gatesgarth and laid a floral tribute to the victims at the site at the foot of Scarth Gap Pass.

The accident happened about 12.30pm on 15 June 1969 when the team was practising a new technique in horizontal lowering of a stretcher.

One successful lower was completed but during a second attempt a huge rock, which was holding the main belay, broke away and triggered a large rockfall, engulfing the stretcher and several team members.

Team leader John ‘Jock’ Thomson, a teacher at a Cockermouth school, was struck by the boulder and killed instantly. Michael Stephenson, who was acting as a belayer, was catapulted out on the scree below and died in West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven the following day.

Jim Coyle, who along with Mr Thomson was acting as a ‘barrow boy’ for the stretcher, suffered a broken arm and cracked ribs, while Kathryn Walton, an outdoors instructor who was also belaying, was carried down the crag and sustained a broken pelvis and arm.

Past and present team members gather at Gatesgarth in the Buttermere valley. Photo: Cockermouth MRT

Past and present team members gather at Gatesgarth in the Buttermere valley. Photo: Cockermouth MRT

Rex Usher who was in the stretcher at the time of the rockfall was buried by debris and also suffered cracked ribs and severe bruising. Other team members had minor injuries including rope burns.

A team spokesperson said: “Team members past and present gathered, along with friends and family members at Low Crag, Buttermere, to take part in a short remembrance service and lay a wreath for those who had lost their lives.”

A newspaper report from the time of the incident describes how a team member ran to Gatesgarth Farm following the accident to raise the alarm. A doctor who was staying at the Bridge Hotel in Buttermere village rushed to the site.

Farmer Thomas Richardson told the paper: “I had just finished my dinner and thought I would have a look across the fields and see how the lads were getting on when I saw the rock come down with a great cloud of dust.

“I said to myself: ‘I hope there’s nobody under that’. It was a rockface they had used for practice many times before.”

He said he began trying to find a doctor in the valley and located the medic who was staying in the hotel a couple of miles away.

Mr Richardson said: “She was at the scene very quickly and dis all she could for the injured.”

Mr Thomson was 49 at the time of his death and Mr Stephenson 28.

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