An internal investigation by the Ministry of Defence has found an Army cadet training expedition in the Mournes, which led to a major rescue operation, was a near-miss.
Over 70 children, aged between 12 and 17 and from Cleveland Army Cadet Force in England, had to be rescued in Co Down last August when weather conditions deteriorated rapidly.
The MoD report identified a number of failures in the planning of the trip.
It found that sufficient due diligence had not been carried out, the classification of the terrain was wrong and the assumption was made that the Mournes area was “normal country” when it is designated “wild country”.
The report noted that cadets should not be undertaking expeditions on that type of terrain, and therefore should not have been on the Mourne Mountains to start with.
It also found there were not enough instructors for the number of children, sufficient notice was not taken of the weather forecast before or during the expedition.
Many cadets did not get breakfast on the morning of the eventual rescue, due to pressure from leaders to get moving – with subsequent low energy levels negatively contributing to their resilience in adverse weather.
Eight of the cadets had to be stretchered off the Mournes by rescue teams, while others suffered minor injuries and many were left feeling the effects of the cold.
Weather conditions were so bad that a search and rescue helicopter could not take off.
While the Army has played down the incident, claiming the press portrayed it as being significantly more serious than it was, the report admitted the situation could easily have been more serious.
In a statement, the Ministry of Defence said the safety of its cadets was “of the utmost importance”.
A spokesperson added that a number of recommendations have been made to prevent another incident in future.