Family’s tribute to ‘hero’ hillwalker

Graham Connell.
Graham Connell.
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Castleford climber Graham Connell has been hailed a ‘hero’ by his family after he was killed trying to lead a group of walkers to safety.

Mr Connell, 31, died instantly after falling 150m in the Cairngorms in the Scottish Highlands last Monday after blizzard conditions set in during a walk.

The experienced hillwalker had taken over leading a group of seven down the mountain after one of the other hikers fell – he survived and managed to make his own way to base camp.

Mr Connell’s brother Ashley, 27, said: “Graham died leading them to safety. All the other hikers told us he was a hero.

“He had trained them to survive and because of that they have survived. He led them to within two miles of the base when he fell.”

Mr Connell had been part of a 35-strong group from Leeds University’s hiking society visiting the area.

Blizzard conditions set in after the group set off on Sunday, leaving them unable to see more than a few metres in 70mph winds.

Ashley added: “He was taking charge and trying to keep them warm.

“If he could have chosen someone to die on that mountain, he’d have wanted it to be him – he would have been absolutely in pieces to lose someone else.

“He saw it as his team and it was his job to get everyone home safe.

“He did know the risks of what he did, it’s part of what he enjoyed. If he could have chosen how he was going to go, that would have been it.”

Mr Connell, who was an ICT and theatre technician at Ralph Thoresby High School in Leeds, had taken up hill walking while a pupil at Castleford High School.

He became a member of the Leeds University society while he studied for a diploma in physics there and had more than 17 years experience of hillwalking, including in winter weather, and spent most weekends walking in the Lake District, Wales and Scotland.

Ashley added: “He wouldn’t have a bad word to say about anybody. He certainly lived his life as much as he could to the max.”

Mr Connell’s parents, Andrew, 57, and Elaine, 54, and his sister Verity Connell, 29, say they have been deluged with messages, cards and flowers of sympathy.

Elaine said: “We have been overwhelmed by the support and kindness we have been shown from so many people.

“He was well loved and well regarded, the hiking society was like his second family, they’ve all been calling him the man of the hills.”