The family of a Leeds University Union Hiking Club member who died while helping others during a blizzard in the Scottish Highlands have paid tribute to their “hero.”
Graham Connell, 31, an ICT and theatre technician at Ralph Thoresby High School in Leeds, fell 150m to his death in the Jacob’s Ladder area of the Cairngorms last week.
The experienced hillwalker had taken over leading a group of seven down the mountain to the safety of their base after winds reached 70mph winds and temperatures plummeted to -30 degrees centigrade.
More than 100 rescuers and an RAF Lossiemouth helicopter were involved in a search, which was launched late on Sunday February 10 after the group was reported overdue.
An inquest opened and adjourned at Wakefield Coroner’s Court yesterday heard that during the descent, one member of the group fell 150m but eventually made it back to base.
Mr Connell, of Castleford, fell shortly afterwards, and was found dead at 12.30pm on Monday February 11 following an RAF search and rescue operation.
Mr Connell’s brother Ashley, 27, said: “Graham died leading them to safety. All the other hikers told us he was a hero.
“He had trained them to survive and because of that they have survived. He led them to within two miles of the base when he fell.”
Ashley Connell added “He was taking charge and trying to keep them warm. If he could have chosen someone to die on that mountain, he’d have wanted it to be him - he would have been absolutely in pieces to lose someone else.
“He saw it as his team and it was his job to get everyone home safe. He did know the risks of what he did, it’s part of what he enjoyed. If he could have chosen how he was going to go, that would have been it.”
Mr Connell’s parents, Andrew, 57, and Elaine, 54, and his sister Verity Connell, 29, say they have been deluged with messages, cards and flowers of sympathy.
His mother Elaine, said: “He was well loved and well regarded, the hiking society was like his second family, they’ve all been calling him the man of the hills.”
A statement on Leeds University Union Hiking Club’s website reads: “The Hiking Club has been shocked and saddened by a tragic accident during our Cairngorms trip, which has cost the life of Graham Connell.”