An avalanche in the Scottish Highlands has claimed the lives of two people in the latest in a series of incidents in recent weeks.
A man and woman who were airlifted from the Chalamain Gap area of the Cairngorms to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary died, while another man, who was flown to the same hospital, remained in a critical condition, police said.
A rescue operation was launched shortly after 12.30pm on Thursday involving police, Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team, search and rescue dogs, RAF Lossiemouth's mountain rescue team and a helicopter. One man was initially rescued and airlifted to Aberdeen, and shortly afterwards a further two people were found and taken to hospital.
David Rutledge, the training officer for Cairngorm Mountain Rescue team, was involved in controlling the operation from the team's base. Two helicopters from RAF Lossiemouth, Rescue 137 and 138, were involved in the operation, he said. "We started mobilising within 15 minutes of the call coming through. We had a helicopter here incredibly quickly. We had three doctors available straight away who were able to get to the scene.
"This was a fairly contained scenario. We were able to deal with an incident which was relatively close to the roadside, within 2kms of the ski road and in a very contained area. From that perspective, no search was necessary. The key aspect to this was to get people there as quickly as possible."
Mr Rutledge said two parties of six were involved in the incident in total. Those not taken to hospital were walked off the hill.
Describing the weather conditions facing rescuers at the time, he said: "Conditions today were quite clear, which was ideal for flying. Snow conditions would have been affected massively by the weather we've had over the last few days, but significantly temperatures were increasing throughout the day and that will have had an effect on what was going on. "Wind speeds were quite high this morning and all of those things have a contributing factor to the snow conditions."
This incident is the latest to cause fatalities on the Scottish mountains in the past few weeks. Earlier this week, a hillwalker died during an expedition with a mountaineering club in the Cairngorms.
Graham Connell, 31, from Castleford, West Yorkshire, was found dead in the Jacob's Ladder area on Monday, following a large-scale search for him and five other people who were reported overdue on Sunday afternoon. The other members in the party, who were unhurt, were picked up by an RAF rescue helicopter after being located by Braemar Mountain Rescue Team on a hill near Carn Tarsuinn.
In a separate incident earlier this month, three men survived falling 150 metres in an avalanche in the Coire an t-Sneachda area of the Cairngorms. The men, who were wearing helmets, were airlifted to hospital with leg injuries. In January, four people were killed in an avalanche in Glencoe. Hospital doctor Rachel Majumdar, 29; PhD student Tom Chesters, 28; Christopher Bell, 24, also a PhD student; and 25-year-old junior doctor Una Finnegan died after they were caught up in an avalanche on January 19.