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Fatal Accident

A brief account of the trip which resulted in the death of Mike Luckwill follows, written by his companion on the trip – Tony – with additional detail kindly supplied by his wife Val…

We arrived at Bettws-y-Coed at 7.45pm where we had coffee in the local coffee bar.  We got to Pen-y-Pass at 8.30 and erected the tent and sorted out our gear.  When we set off at 9pm, the weather was clear and fine, with a little wind.  We set a course at 260 degrees along the pyg.  At first we tried to adjust our course without using our lamps, but we found it impossible to do this as we were well down in the valley.

It also proved inadequate when walking with just one of our lamps going and our concern was that our batteries would not last the trip.  However, Mike had a spare set of batteries and we agreed to use the batteries in rotation.  This proved highly satisfactory, and it was only when judging depth over long distances that our power of sight was impaired.

We arrived at the junction of the pyg and horseshoe routes (M.R. 633553) at 10.45 approximately. The going had not proved too difficult, but care had to be exercised in following the track, which had become a little vague in places.

Compared with the pyg, the way over Crib Gochb was abundantly clear, and at no time between M.R. 633553 and Snowdon summit was any difficulty in route finding encountered.  Indeed, Crib Goch and Crib Yddysgl ridges were accomplished without any delays. Snow and ice lay on the flanks of the ridge, but the ridge itself was ice free.  The night was cold and still clear and the wind blew hard in occasional gusts.  There was no moon.  A few black clouds which presented themselves on the horizon made us fear that snow was coming, but we were well prepared and, indeed, expected snow.  No snow fell that night, however.  Excepting for the lack of moonlight, conditions were perfect, and by the time we reached Snowdon at 2am, we were feeling very pleased.  The seed of overconfidence were beginning to germinate which were in my opinion, to lead to tragedy.

At the summit, we stayed for fifteen to twenty minutes, and Mike recorded the temperature as being -8 degrees C.  We sheltered by the hotel and enjoyed a chicken leg each, with chocolates and biscuits with coffee brewed on my primus.  We left the hotel at 2.10.  We were in fine, confident mood and felt that the hardest part was behind us.  We were slightly chilled and anxious to get moving again.  We were both quite familiar with the Watkin Path from previous summer experience and so we elected to leave the summit and to cut across diagonally to join the Watkin. The initial downward slope did not give the impression of steepness, there was considerably hard packed snow and we took our axes out for the first time.  The slope began to increase in steepness, but there was not thought of crampons or roping up.

About two hundred feet down from the summit, we were travelling side by side, about ten feet apart. I turned round to adjust my mittens, I think, when I heard a slight scuffle but no cry.  I turned back towards Mike but there was no sign of him. I stood and shouted out but heard nothing.  It was then that I assumed that Mike had fallen.  I advanced a few paces with the intention of going down to him.  In front of me, the slope became even more steep, so I crossed the snowfield for some distance horizontally and then started descending.  In my attempt to descend as quickly as was possible, I slipped and fell something like two hundred feet.  I came to rest on broken scree, cut and very bruised, and almost immediately began to stiffen up.  I called again for Mike but heard nothing.  As a result of the fall, I had lost my axe, map, com pass and torch batteries. I realised that my only course now would be to climb back up to the summit which I managed to do with great difficulty and then followed the railway track down to Llanberis and alerted the police at 5.30am.

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The Mountain Rescue went out in a helicopter, and the body was found and taken to the Caernarvon and Anglesey Accident hospital.  Tony later identified the body and, after being X-rayed and treated for cuts and bruises, was discharged.  No treatment for shock was given and, in fact, Tony then returned to get the tent and drive Mike’s car back to his own home.  After coping with all this, delayed shock took over and he was a few days recovering.  Tony missed the inquest as a result, which may account for some of the coroner’s remarks. It is thought that Mike’s fall was about 300 feet.

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Mike Luckwill commenced caving in the mid-fifties in South Wales until introduced to Mendip, where the caves appeared small.  He joined the B.E.C., became a Cuthbert’s Leader and regular contributor to the B.B. on many varied subjects.  He discovered Canyon Series and was a member of the Anneschacht expeditions 1967 – 69.  He caved in Morocco with Alan Thomas, and climbed in the Alps, Snowdonia, Skye, Ben Nevis and many other places. He was interested in cave photography and surveying; particularly in the subject of survey accuracy, where his interest and skill in mathematics led him to work on the establishment of the survey accuracy of the St. Cuthbert’s survey.  He was a member of the Ian Dear Memorial Committee 1966-1969; elected to the B.E.C. committee 1969, took over the editorship of the B.B. in 1970, which he planned to improve in many ways.  His interest in so many aspects of caving – geomorphology; geology; surveying; photography and exploration made him an all round caver.