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NIGHTMARE ENDS; Pupils back after mountain blizzard drama.

Byline: SALLY McLEAN

TEENAGE pupils yesterday told of their terrifying ordeal stuck up a mountain in blizzard conditions.

They returned home to Edinburgh after spending almost 24 hours battling waist-deep snow, sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds.

Some of the Tynecastle High School youngsters admitted they feared they would die up the 10,000ft peak during the worst storm in South Africa for 70 years.

Duncan Logan, 17, who trekked down the mountain to get help, said: "There were gale- force winds on the top of hills. It was like somebody was throwing pins in your face but we had to keep going.

"If we had stayed any longer, we would have frozen to death.

"The rescue team said if we'd been there a day longer we would have died."

The ordeal began for the 13 pupils and their teacher after McKinlay Tait, 17, injured her leg on the Drakensberg mountain range on the eastern cape of the country. She was unable to get down as the weather deteriorated.

After activating a tracking device, teacher Peter Green, a local guide and Duncan went to get help.

A major rescue operation was launched to find the youngsters, who were taking part in a month-long World Challenge Expeditions trip.

The injured girl was stretchered to hospital, where some pupils were treated for hypothermia.

McKinlay admitted she feared the party of three who had gone to raise the alarm would not survive.

She said: "It just didn't stop snowing. The snow was the height of the tent and the wind was relentless.

"I could see it was absolutely horrendous and was worried about the guys getting back.

"We were just praying help would come."

Science teacher Peter, who helped organise the pounds 3000-a-head-trip, said the youngsters were well prepared.

He added: "They were very well equipped and well briefed. The forecast was for clear weather so we certainly never expected anything like that."

Headmaster Dr John Campbell said: "They are a superb bunch of kids and all very, very able.

"I was very well informed throughout the entire rescue process and was kept up to date with constant text messages from Peter.

"I was always confident everything would work out well.

"But I was relieved when they came down from the mountain safe and well."

Chris Gallant, of World Challenge Exhibitions, said: "The team decided it was too dangerous to evacuate the students and decided to wait until the morning.

"This was an extra and unexpected test for them and I'm glad to say they all passed it with flying colours.

"Nobody could have predicted that the weather would change so rapidly but they were all brilliant and everyone, including the injured girl, has been saying how much they enjoyed the whole experience - even the rescue."
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 26, 2002
Words:462
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