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Dramatic cliff rescue at Girnigoe Castle

By David G Scott

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A TEENAGE boy was rescued in the shadow of 15th century Sinclair-Girnigoe castle near Wick on Monday evening and airlifted to hospital after a cliff fall.

The 14-year-old, reported to be French, had fallen over a ledge in an area not easily accessible by the public and the emergency services were alerted to his plight.

Iain Maclean and Kenneth McElroy, from the Caithness Broch Project, arrived at the ruined castle shortly after the incident occurred and helped communicate with the police, coastguard and ambulance as the tourists at the site were unsure of their exact location.

"We had a National Geographic photographer with us who was taking pictures of brochs and other historic sites in the area for a possible article about our work," said Mr Maclean.

He said he saw a commotion going on in a gully by the castle in which several tourists had congregated. "We arrived just a few minutes after it happened and it was obvious that there were some communication problems going on.

"There were American, English and French tourists on the phone to the emergency services but they were struggling to get across to them where exactly they were located."

He said that all they could say to the operator about their location was that they were "at a castle on the North Coast 500".

"They didn't have a clue as to how to describe where they were and there was a bit of a language barrier going on so we helped get the proper information across."

Mr Maclean added that the boy and the woman with him, presumed to be his mother, must have strayed off the marked out pathways around the popular tourists destination to access the area.

"They could have been looking for an interesting angle of the castle for a photo I guess."

Ambulance and police services were the first to arrive at the scene being called at around 5pm.

A woman, presumed to be the boy's mother, runs to the scene of the accident.
A woman, presumed to be the boy's mother, runs to the scene of the accident.

An ambulance spokesperson said: “We received a call at 1701 hours on Monday, August 12 to attend an incident near Wick. We dispatched two ambulances and an air ambulance to the scene.”

Police Scotland confirmed that the boy's injuries were "serious but non-life threatening".

The Wick RNLI lifeboat was called out at 5.26pm and launched under coxswain Mark Cormack and made its way to the site at the west of Noss Head.

A spokesperson for the lifeboat said: "Weather conditions at the time were described as favourable with calm seas. Once on scene, the lifeboat launched its smaller inflatable daughter boat to get into the cliff bottom.

"The volunteer lifeboat crew then assisted the coastguard units from Wick, Scrabster and Duncansby, as well as the ambulance service and police to prepare the casualty for transfer before they were airlifted to Aberdeen Hospital by the Coastguard Rescue 900 helicopter from Sumburgh in the Shetlands."

Speaking following the call out, John Taylor, Wick RNLI Lifeboat press officer said: "We would like to extend our best wishes to the casualty for a full and speedy recovery. This evening's call out highlighted the good teamwork between the various emergency services teams."

It was the second call out of the day for Wick RNLI who earlier responded to help a fishing vessel that had broken down approximately six miles south of Wick. The lifeboat towed the vessel to safety at Wick Harbour.

The crew winch the injured teenager into the helicopter.
The crew winch the injured teenager into the helicopter.

A spokesperson for HM Coastguard said: "Rescue teams from Wick, Scrabster, Duncansby and Melvich were sent as well as the HM Coastguard search and rescue helicopter from Sumburgh. Scottish Police and the RNLI lifeboat from Wick were also on the scene."

The coastguard helicopter was observed hovering over the site for well over an hour as rescue teams treated and secured the boy. At one point it broke off to refuel at Wick Airport after the 190-mile journey from Sumburgh in Shetland.

The chopper passes over Noss Head lighthouse and heads to the infirmary in Aberdeen.
The chopper passes over Noss Head lighthouse and heads to the infirmary in Aberdeen.

A woman, presumed to be the boy's mother, was observed at the site being comforted by police officers.

The injured teenager was eventually winched up on to the coastguard helicopter just after 7pm and airlifted to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for treatment.

Castle Sinclair-Girnigoe originally dates from the mid-1400s and is a major tourist destination in the Caithness area.

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