Haywards Heath Team GB fell runner died in accident caused by bad weather, inquest hears

A Haywards Heath Team GB fell runner succumbed to hypothermia when the weather on his afternoon fun run in the Perthshire hills turned deadly, an inquest has heard.

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 11:03 am
Updated Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 11:10 am

Chris Smith 43, died despite meticulous planning when conditions became horrendous, a coroner said.

Driving sleet, reduced visibility and a wind chill of -11 caused the experienced runner to become disorientated, an inquest at Crawley Coroner’s Court was told.

A post-mortem examination at the University Hospital in Dundee concluded he died from hypothermia.

Chris Smith
Chris Smith

Assistant coroner for West Sussex Robert Simpson concluded his death was an accident caused by the adverse weather conditions.

His wife Lindsay Smith told the inquest: “He hadn’t taken the route lightly and had fully researched it.

“I felt he was fully prepared.”

The Aberdeen born father-of-two who had represented Team GB in international mountain running events was a civil servant who lived in Haywards Heath with his wife and two children.

They had been on holiday touring Scotland in October last year when he planned his run in the Perthshire hills.

On October 27, he set off to run near the hotel at Glen Lyon where the family were staying.

The whole family enjoyed outdoor pursuits, the inquest heard.

He set off around 1450 carrying a phone with an OS map of the area telling his family he would be back by 1700.

When she had not heard from him by 1922, his wife called the police.

An extensive search and rescue operation failed to find him and his body was not located until October 29 when two of his friends found him lying the heather 230m above sea level, well off his planned route at Glen Lyon North, Meah Garbh.

The coroner said he had taken off his hat, gloves, jacket and watch and laid them out next to him.

Paradoxical undressing is a feature of hypothermia and increases heat loss, the court heard.

The coroner said: “Chris was obviously an extremely fit man with a focus on outdoor activities.

“He was adequately equipped for what he wanted to do that day.

“The weather on the night was quite frankly horrendous in the mountains.

“It was -11 with driving rain and sleet and reduced visibility.

“He was found lying in the heather, waterproof jacket and gloves removed.

“He may have tried to escape the weather or become disorientated due to his hypothermia or the weather.

“He removed his hat, gloves and jacket due to the effects of hypothermia.”

The coroner said he would record the date of death as October 29.

“I do find it unlikely he could’ve survived the night given his location, clothes and equipment he had with him,” he said.

The extensive, detailed and lengthy search and rescue operation was praised by the family and coroner for the professionalism, dedication and empathy of those involved.

“Significant efforts were made to find him,” Mr Simpson said.

The coroner expressed his condolences to the family and said: “I have absolutely no doubt it came as a massive shock.

“None of us are a match for the possible effects of nature.

“I’m sure you will have good memories of him and hope you can focus on those for the future.”

In a statement, his family said he would always be remembered as a fantastic dad.

“Over the last four months, we have pieced together as much information as possible about Chris’s run on that day.

“This has helped us hugely and whilst we may never know exactly what happened to Chris, it is clear he was doing everything he could to run back to his family.

“Chris will always be remembered as a fantastic dad, son, husband, brother and uncle; a beacon of energy and love, and an example of a life so very well lived.”

The family has set up a memorial fund in his name.