Leeds Uni ‘hero’ hiker died while trying to lead group to safety in blizzard

Graham Connell
Graham Connell
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AN EXPERIENCED Leeds University Union Hiking Club member plunged to his death while trying to lead others to safety during a blizzard in the Scottish Highlands, an inquest heard.

Graham Connell, 31, an ICT and theatre technician at Ralph Thoresby High School in Leeds, suffered fatal chest and abdominal injuries after falling in the Jacob’s Ladder area of the Cairngorms on Sunday February 10 2013.

Mr Connell. of Castleford, had taken over leading a group of seven down a ridge leading from the Fiacaill Couloir area of the Cairngorms to the safety of their base after the weather rapidly deteriorated.

An inquest at Wakefield Coroner’s Court heard Mr Connell stepped on a cornice – overhanging snow on a ridge crest.

He fell and tried unsuccessfully to dig his ice axe in to the snow as he slipped down the ridge and 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 were pushing them off course.

One of the group stepped on overhanging snow, which collapsed causing the hiker to fall. The hiker 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 just after 2pm.

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

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.

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

Recording a verdict of accidental death, Mr 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.”

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

Following the tragedy, Mr Connell’s brother Ashley 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.”

“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.”

Debbie Heald of Heald

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