Rock climbers' safety fears after death

QUESTIONS about rock climbers' safety were thrown into doubt yesterday after an inquest into the death of an experienced climber from Essex.A verdict of accidental death was recorded in the case of Marvin Royce, a civil servant from Great Waltham, near Chelmsford, after he fell 50 feet on to a rock ledge at St Govern's Head in Pembrokeshire.

QUESTIONS about rock climbers' safety were thrown into doubt yesterday after an inquest into the death of an experienced climber from Essex.

A verdict of accidental death was recorded in the case of Marvin Royce, a civil servant from Great Waltham, near Chelmsford, after he fell 50 feet on to a rock ledge at St Govern's Head in Pembrokeshire.

He was attempting the tricky tactician's climb with his climbing partner, Simon Aitkins, travelling to south Pembrokeshire with the London-based Marylebone Mountaineering Club in early August.

As a member of the club for four years, Marvin was described as an ultra-cautious climber.


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"He was regarded as particularly careful, very careful," Mr Aitkins recalled. "He would err on the side of taking too much rather than too little in terms of equipment."

The two climbers, who were closely matched in ability, began their climb, on August 9, at Stennis Head, but as the area became crowed the pair decided to move to St Govern's Head.

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Rigged in all the necessary safety gear, Mr Royce led the climb in the classic British style using two safety ropes on either side.

"It was not an easy climb but within the realms of our ability, a grade at which Marvin was happy to climb."

After about eight or nine metres, Mr Royce, who had taken the climb very slowly, rested before proceeding upwards to a more difficult overhang.

It was at this point, without any warning, that the 39-year-old fell backwards and plummeted towards the rock base. The safety wedges put in place to break his fall became unattached.

"On this occasion it didn't work. The protection, as in the nuts, came out of the rock," Mr Aitkins said. "I have taken a number of falls before, sometimes one piece will fall out, but one would always hold well."

Immediate first aid was administered at the scene before Mr Royce was taken by Sea King helicopter to Withybush Hospital in Haverfordwest.

The climbing enthusiast was pronounced dead on arrival at 2.30pm. A post-mortem examination revealed he died from a bilateral haemothorax due to traumatic rib fractures.

Pembrokeshire coroner Michael Howells was satisfied the highly experienced climber had the appropriate and necessary equipment.

"The wedges were his protection and they should have stopped his fall," he said. "But one by one, like a zip unzipping, they came out of the rock.

"It is a very sad occurrence, he was a good climber and for this to happen is very unfortunate."

After fresh pieces of limestone where found at the base of the rock, recommendations have now been made by Mr Howells for research to be undertaken to see if there is rock fatigue - similar to metal fatigue.

There is extreme concern that constant use of popular and well-documented climbing routes is compromising climbers' safety.

Mary Tinsell, an instructor at St David's Twr-y-Felin Activity Centre, examined the climbing equipment after the tragic fall.

She believed that there was nothing wrong or untoward with any of the wedges used, but agreed that the classic route, used by many people, may deteriorate the rock surface.

"It's quite difficult for climbers to know if rock is defective. The quality of the rock can deteriorate over time."

Dr Norman Fry, a lecturer in geology at Cardiff University, said: "It's possible that over use by climbers could have been the cause but it could also have just been that particular locality rather than the nature of rock as a whole, it's so difficult to know."

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