A view of the rescue from the Coastguard helicopter. Image: MCA

A view of the rescue from the Coastguard helicopter. Image: MCA

Two climbers were plucked to safety by a rescue helicopter crew after getting stuck on a sea stack in Sutherland.

The pair got into difficulties as high waves battered the Old Man of Stoer, with the tide coming in.

The two men called for help shortly before 6.30m on Thursday, from the 60m (200ft) sandstone column. The climbers were unable to make their way up or down the stack.

The Stornoway Coastguard helicopter was scrambled, along with the Lochinver RNLI lifeboat, plus the Achiltibuie, Kinlochbervie and Ullapool Coastguard Rescue Teams. Officers from Police Scotland also attended the scene.

The men were winched to safety by the helicopter crew and flown to Lochinver where they were passed into the care of the Coastguard rescue teams. Cold and tired from the ordeal, they were able to make their own way home.

One of the men said: “We’re just so grateful. I didn’t want to call really; I kept thinking we could get out of it, but the weather was just getting worse and worse, and I started to get really worried about [my companion].

“He was much further down the stack than I was, and I kept losing sight of him – he was getting battered by the waves and the sea spray was making everything really difficult. There were moments when I thought he was gone.

“So it was a huge relief to see the helicopter arriving.

“We were both so impressed with the entire rescue operation. Every member of the crew was top class. It barely seemed possible to carry out an operation in those conditions so close to the stack but they did it.

“We also really appreciated the teams waiting for us on the ground to ensure we were OK and provided us with blankets to warm us up.”

He said his climbing partner was much worse for wear as he was stuck lower down on the stack. “I know he feels quite lucky, and extremely grateful, that HM Coastguard came to our rescue.

“If the seas had got just a bit stormier, all it would have taken was one wave to sweep us away.”

Captain Will MacLeod of the Stornoway Coastguard helicopter said: “This was a potentially life-threatening situation for all involved: the two men who became isolated, and the teams of coastguard rescuers, police and volunteers who responded.

“The Old Man of Stoer is a popular location for climbers but weather can rapidly deteriorate and, particularly at this time of year as we come out of the summer months, rising waves and high winds from the Atlantic Ocean present significant risks that anyone moving around the coast can expect to encounter.

“Thankfully we were able to return these men to safety without injury however, the situation could have been far worse had weather conditions become more severe.”

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