Updated 20 Apr 2010

Account of the Accident 1960

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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 Valley Log). 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.

    Robert Palmer
    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 front rope. 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 39 hours.

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, .