Looking Up

Matt Luxton – Best friend

We had planned a two-week expedition to Iceland in the August of 2016 where our aim was to explore the island, and to discover some of Iceland’s best climbing and mountaineering routes. I had just come back home to Oswestry for summer leave from the military so, the weekend before we flew, we decided to head to North Wales to warm up our climbing skills. We decided to head to Llangollen in Wales, to an old quarry called the World’s End. It was a perfect day, sunshine, no wind, and, in the hills with my best friend, I couldn’t be happier.

Skip forward a few hours. We had been climbing all day, doing moderate routes, nothing too tricky and mixing it up with some lead climbing, abseiling and top roping. We had decided to do one last tricky climb in the middle tier of the quarry, and then head down to finish off the day. Darren led, and the ascent was, in his words, “the hardest thing I have ever climbed” so, when he got to the top, needless to say, we were both totally exhilarated from meeting the challenge. But that was to be cut short.

Darren was abseiling from the top of the climb when he slipped and fell, hit a ledge and then rolled off the top of a cliff, falling between eight and nine meters straight onto his back. I was waiting at the bottom so didn’t see any of this. Instead, I head the sudden cry of my name “MATT!” and, looking up, saw him falling and then heard an almighty THUD as he hit the ground. It was one of those moments where everything happened so fast, but at the same time feeling like I was watching something in slow motion. The ground was sloped downward so Darren immediately started to roll downhill. Seeing him rolling, with no apparent control over his body, I immediately knew he was in a bad way. I sprinted towards him and slide down the slope to catch him and stop the roll. Thankfully, I got to him in times because he was heading for another cliff edge, in which case he would have undoubtedly been killed. As a Royal Navy Clearance Diver I have had extensive, professional training, and have been deployed all over the world so, when I say the training kicks in, it really does. However, the moment I had stopped him falling and I heard him say “Matt, I can’t feel my legs” it felt like I’d been shot in the gut. I knew I couldn’t move him even though he was uncomfortable and in pain but, once he was still, I checked him over. I could see blood, so immediately thought the worst, but, amazingly, his head and neck were fine. The blood had come from a long cut on his arm as he had landed in a thorn bush. I carefully removed all the branches from underneath him and from his arm, undid his harness, and very carefully removed his climbing gear from underneath him.

Luckily for us a couple, climbing higher up, had heard what had happened and immediately came to help. I told the woman to ring 999 while I was trying to reassure Darren, and also prevent him from slipping any further down the mountainside. After what seemed like an eternity, but was in fact only about 30 minutes, the Mountain Rescue Team arrived on the scene. The HM Coastguard helicopter arrived first, and the winchman came down and immediately went to work, asking Darren questions and fully assessing him before the rescue team’s Doctor arrived. The helicopter disappeared briefly at this point. When the Doctor arrived minutes later, he gave Darren some morphine and tried to make him more comfortable by cutting and removing his harness. By the time the other MRT guys had arrived, I took a step back while they went to work on Darren.

It was at this point that I realized we were meant to have been home by now, so I called home and my Dad answered the phone. I guess because of the adrenaline/shock/surprise of it all I hadn’t really been able to process what had happened, until the exact moment my Dad answered. “Hey Matt, what’s up?” At that moment it all hit me, and I could not control my emotions, I just started crying and whimpering on the phone to him, trying to explain what had happened. It’s a feeling I’ve never had before, and it was totally uncontrollable and overwhelming. It was, without doubt, the most awful moment of my life. The MRT guys are unbelievably good at what they do, and I’ve never seen anything so impressive. The pilot, hovering literally meters from the rock face and about fifteen meters above us, was a sight to behold. After they had moved Darren onto a spinal board and eventually winched him up, it took a couple of attempts for the rescue helicopter to hover in the correct position as the wind had picked up at this point. At this point, I was covering Darren with his jacket to protect him from the cold downdraught of the helicopter. I gathered together all of his kit, and was escorted down to where my car was parked. The MRT guys offered me a lift back home but I declined. As I pulled up on the drive at home my family were all there waiting for me, which again opened up the flood gates. After I gathered myself together, I explained what happened, and we got into my Dad’s car to the Critical Care Unit at Stoke Hospital. For the new few weeks I would be spending my time there, and then at the Midlands Centre for Spinal Injuries.

It didn’t take long for him to get out and about and back to being good old Darren, already looking for his next adventure and living his life to the utmost!!! He is truly my best friend, my hero and my inspiration! A living testament to the meaning of the word ‘courage’!

 

2 Comments
  1. This has left me speechless, as a climber myself and someone who has climbed with Darren in the past. This just shows how close to edge we as climbers really are and how easy things can change at any point and how little control we have when they do. Both you guys are Truly amazing ! Matt I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting you but hopefully we will one day soon so I can shake you by the hand Darren really has got an friend in you.
    The way you have both faced everything and risen above it is really inspiring. No doubt it’s all ready been a long emotional and physical battle you’ve both been on so far and probably will continue to be for sometime yet so remember neither of you are alone through this and never will you be. Long may you both continue to have strength through adversity. Here if you ever need Graeme sharp.

    Like

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