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Team has high hopes of reaching the top; Air cadets return to scene of their heroic rescue.

Byline: Dan Warburton

BRAVE air cadets are launching a daring trip to the French Pyrenees - 12 months to the day since they saved the lives of seven stranded climbers.

Will Close-Ash's efforts to scale the side of the Pic Du Canigou mountain last year were thwarted when he was called upon to lead a risky rescue mission.

The assistant headteacher at Bedlington High School was leading an expedition when he saved seven ill-equipped Belgian tourists who were minutes from death.

And now the 32-year-old from Wallsend, North Tyneside, is setting his sights on repeating the adventure.

Flight Lieutenant Close-Ash and a team of six teenage air cadets are aiming to conquer the summit of the 2,784m mountain in a week-long expedition.

Last night he said his team of air cadets were excited to conquer the mountain that had eluded them one year earlier.

He said: "The team are excited but I think among the older cadets in the team there is a little bit of apprehension.

"They realise that these things can actually happen and their training could be called into practice at any time.

"I'm really looking forward to a week off work, doing something I really enjoy with a group of fantastic young people.

"I am wondering if we might meet the group of Belgians again - I've not heard from them, but there is every possibility that they may return to conquer the mountain that eluded them last year. I'm also curious to see the area where the rescue occurred, I bet it will bring all the memories and emotions flooding back." Last year Flt Lt Close-Ash led a team of teenagers from 346 (Tynemouth) Squadron Air Cadets on a rescue mission which saved seven stricken walkers.

The group were scaling the Pic Du Canigou mountain in the south of France when they saw patches of blood-soaked snow.

After discovering two Belgian tourists who had fallen hundreds of feet, Flt Lt Close-Ash began a three-hour rescue, cutting steps into the ice to reach them.

Five more walkers were spotted on a ledge 600m above, wearing only shorts and T-shirts although it was only a couple of degrees above freezing.

Flt Lt Close-Ash and his team led the stricken climbers half way down the mountain before official rescue teams arrived.

And last night Cadet Flight Sergeant Kirsty McVay, who was among those who saved the stranded walkers, said her training had kicked in immediately.

She said: "Everything happened so quickly. It was all a bit of a blur so it will be interesting to go back out there and look at the area where the men fell.

"I must admit, since the accident, we've all become a bit like celebrities, lots of people congratulated us and wanted to hear about it. I still can't believe it happened." Cadet Warrant Officer James Smith said: "We were all pretty disappointed we didn't get to the top last year, but saving those men's lives was more important than climbing any mountain."


HEIGHT OF AMBITION Flt Lt Will Close-Ash with air cadets Emma Stewart, Dominic Jones, 17, and Matthew Chamberlin, 17, who will soon be off to the French Pyrenees
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 27, 2009
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