Updated 20 Apr 2010
Account of the Accident 1960
Account of the Accident 1960
Account of the accident on 2/4/1960.
On 2nd April 1960 the master in charge Peter Sutcliffe
and five boys, John Etches from the Royal Wanstead school a boy leader,
Brian Ridgeway, Robert Palmer (myself), John Brenchley and Tony Evans
all fifth formers from the Royal Masonic School were transported in a
three tonner from the cadet camp in the Nant Gwynant Valley in Snowdonia
to the Pen-y-pass hotel arriving there early in the afternoon. We got
off the lorry and Mr Sutcliffe gave us instruction in the use of the
dynamic belay. He explained that if one boy fell the other two on the
rope were to loop the rope around a rock projection to break the fall.
(The dynamic belay technique was probably flawed
in that the likelihood was that if one fell the other two
would not have the time or a convenient rock projection to
stop the faller but instead is more likely to drag the
other two off which is what happened.)
We were to be two ropes of three with about 30 feet of slack rope between
each person. The front rope was Mr Sutcliffe leading, Ridgeway in the
middle and myself at the end. The second rope was Etches leading and
Evans and Brenchley behind, I forget the order. I was tasked with
maintaining contact with Etches and if I lost contact I was to relay
this to Mr Sutcliffe via Ridgeway. We were dressed in thin shorts and
I think corps boots. The weather when we set off was poor but during
the walk/climb it deteriorated into very poor conditions with heavy
mist and very limited visibility (crucial) and wind, rain and
intermittent hail, and very cold. We roped up and walked along the PYG
track to the foot of Crib Goch. We climbed/scrambled up Crib Goch.
Two thirds of the way up I lost contact with Etches and relayed this
to Mr Sutcliffe who unroped and went back to look for them. Soon after
they appeared through the mist and subsequently Mr Sutcliffe arrived
back having missed them. As we continued on towards Crib y Ddysgl I
lost contact again as we were proceeding faster than the second rope.
After relaying the fact on more than one occasion to Mr Sutcliffe
via Ridgeway Mr Sutcliffe stopped again, unroped and went to look for
them a second time. This time they did not appear and Mr Sutcliffe
came back having not found them. It seems that they had deviated off
the route in the mist to the north where one probably fell and pulled
the other two down off the cliff of Clogwyn y Person (the Parson's nose)
at the foot of which their bodies were found still roped together at
0830 on Monday 4th April by the mountain rescue team (details in the
We roped up again and Mr Sutcliffe took Ridgeway and
myself to the summit of Snowdon where he put us behind a wall for
shelter while he went back for a third time to look for them. After a
while he came back and told Ridgeway and myself to walk back to camp
along the Watkin Path while he went off again to look for them.
We arrived back at the camp mid to late afternoon and Mr Sutcliffe
got back sometime later not having found them.
14 Apr 2010
Robert Palmer 1961
Comment by Robert Palmer's brother John
It still makes me go cold at the thought how easily I could have lost
my brother, it was a 1 in 3 chance Robert was placed on the surviving
The boy in front of him was plumper than the rest so was
placed behind the leading master.
It was a string of incompetence, they wore thin shorts, none of the
boys knew how to use a rope properly, and the master was moving too
fast for the second rope when the weather closed in.
My brother got down to the road again three hours after the fall
and immediately rang our Mum.
I happened to be in the house when she got the phonecall, he said the
boys were probably dead, she assumed the worst and phoned the headmaster
with "Did you know 3 of your boys have died in Wales?".
It was the first he had heard of an accident, and he said,
"Rubbish Madam, the Master is an expert climber".
They did not find the bodies, to be sure they had died, for another
It was the start of a bad few days for the headmaster.....
John Palmer, Apr 2010.
Conceived, written and copyright © 2010, Robert Palmer,
All Rights Reserved.
Compiled, formatted, hyperlinked, and encoded
2010 by John Palmer,