Student bumps into man who saved his life at climbing site

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A SCOTTISH student and the French climber who saved his life at 10,000ft have been reunited in a chance encounter.

Harry Holmes, 19, narrowly escaped death in a climbing accident which claimed the life of his best friend in the French Alps this summer.

The Edinburgh University student was plucked to safety by helicopter winchman and mountain climber Jeff Mercier.

Remarkably, the pair bumped into each other last weekend in Glasgow for the first time since the tragedy.

Jeff, a member of Chamonix Mountain Rescue, travelled to the Glasgow Climbing Centre to take part in an indoor climbing competition.

Harry, who has refused to let the tragedy put him off climbing, was also there and could not believe his eyes when he saw the man who saved his life.

Harry said: “He just came over and said: ‘Hi, do you remember me?’.

“I was a bit like ‘wow’. It felt good to see him again but I didn’t really know what to say.

“He didn’t speak much English but I said thanks and shook his hand.”

Father-of-three Jeff, pictured below left, said: “It is so rare to meet climbers that we have rescued – it was a great chance to meet.”

Recalling the rescue, he said: “We had no visibility. Walking in the fog and searching for footprints was difficult. Unfortunately, we could not find anyone. I thought that Harry was lost in an avalanche.”

After the first search, Jeff was called to another emergency before getting the “incredible” news that Harry was still alive and waiting to be rescued.

Jeff said: “I was winched by the helicopter in the dark. I saw nothing at all, only a small light of Harry’s headlamp.

“The helicopter was over 40 metres above the bivouac. Everything happened so fast. I attached him to my belt and he hung with me. I signalled the pilot and we disappeared quickly into the night.”

Harry was climbing with his friend, Robbie Cammack, 19, from Craigellachie, Moray, when they were hit by bad weather and an avalanche and left stranded on a tiny ledge.

As they waited for help, Robbie, who was studying medicine at Edinburgh University, plunged to his death.

Harry said: “Climbing is part of who I am. I don’t want to dwell on it. What’s happened is in the past. But I won’t forget it either.”

Robbie’s friends recently attended a memorial at Greyfriars Kirk, where tributes poured in for the student.

At the time of the tragedy, Robbie’s father, Dr Adrian Cammack, criticised the French authorities for the way he was informed of his son’s death.

Initially he was told Robbie had survived, but was later informed his son had died.

But Harry said the rescue team did the best they could.

He said: “I think some things got lost in translation. It was an innocent error.”