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Family want answers over death in snow on wind farm

The family of a security guard who died after becoming trapped in heavy snow on a remote wind farm are demanding answers about his death.

Ronnie Alexander, 74, was working at Afton wind farm in Ayrshire when he became stranded in severe weather.

His daughter, Tracy Fraser, has been told he may have lain in deep snow for up to seven hours before he was found.

She said the death of her “lovely, hard-working” father during bad weather in January had devastated the family.

“My mum is in bits, as is my sister and her family and my sons,” she said.

“We really need to know exactly what happened, we don’t want this happening again.

“It’s horrible knowing that my dad, who was such a fit, healthy man, died like this. It should never have happened.”

The tragedy unfolded on 21 January, after The Met Office issued a yellow “be aware” warning for heavy snow across large swathes of Scotland.

Ms Fraser said the family became concerned about her father when he failed to return from a 12-hour shift at the wind farm near New Cumnock.

They tried to call his mobile phone but the signal at the construction site was patchy at best, and they could not make contact.

A search was mounted for Mr Alexander after his grandson, Dale, raised the alarm at about 20:20.

The family were told at 01:00 that Police Scotland’s Mountain Rescue Team had found the security guard – more than six hours after his shift finished.

Intensive care

Ms Fraser said she has been told he was discovered lying in deep snow, up a steep hill about a mile from the security cabin.

He was airlifted off the site with a younger colleague. Police said at the time that both had been stranded without heat or power. It is understood that a generator failed.

When the family arrived at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, they were given the devastating news that Mr Alexander was unlikely to survive.

“When we got up there my dad was in intensive care and they said he had a 5% chance of living but they would try everything to help him,” Ms Fraser said. “And they really did.”

Mr Alexander, who lived in Kilmarnock, died later that morning.

“It’s just horrible, it should never have happened,” said Ms Fraser.

“There was nothing else wrong with him. Once they’d done the post-mortem, they said he’d died of hypothermia – that’s it.”

The family believe he may have become disorientated with the hypothermia, which may explain why he was found so far from the security hut.

But Ms Fraser added: “We really don’t know what happened. We have so many questions.”

She said she was concerned by rumours that workers had not been issued with satellite phones to raise the alarm in an emergency.

And she questioned whether anyone should have been working on the site in such hazardous weather conditions.

The family also want to know whether the alarm was raised when the next shift arrived at the site, unable to start work.

Ms Fraser said: “I want answers. It’s not going to bring my dad back. I want to know what happened so it never, ever happens to any other family because it’s absolutely broke my heart.”

Health and Safety Executive

The tragedy came less than a year after the death of a Portuguese worker at another Ayrshire wind farm.

Antonio Joao Da Silva Linares, 37, died following an accident inside a turbine at Kilgallioch wind farm in March 2017.

BBC Scotland has learned that construction firm Farrans was the principal contractor of both sites, with overall responsibility for health and safety.

Both incidents are being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and they have led to calls for safety improvements at wind farms.

Farrans Construction offered its “deepest sympathy” to the family of Mr Alexander but it said it could not comment on the investigation into his death.

A spokeswoman for the company said it was “co-operating fully” with the authorities and Afton Wind Farm Limited, which owns the site.

She added: “Farrans takes its responsibilities in relation to safety extremely seriously. In addition to compliance with all relevant health and safety regulations, Farrans promotes a strong culture of safety across all of its operations.

“As part of this we place a constant and uncompromising focus on ensuring that all of the sites at which we operate are safe environments for workers.”

‘Precise circumstances’

She added that the company was unable to comment on the investigation into the fatal accident at Kilgallioch wind farm.

Mr Alexander’s employer, CSM Facilities, said it wanted to express its “deep sadness” over his death.

A spokesman added: “The precise circumstances of his death are not known to us as at this stage – no information has been shared with us by the site management or the investigating authorities.

“We want to assure all concerned that this incident is being treated with the utmost seriousness.

“We are in the process of conducting our own inquiry into the circumstances of Mr Alexander’s death with such information as is available to us. Until we have a more complete picture of these circumstances it is not possible for us to comment further.”

He said the firm had never experienced the serious injury or death of a colleague in its 16 years of trading and said it was “determined that this will never happen again”.

Industry body Scottish Renewables said the sector took safety seriously and worked with HSE to ensure best practice was followed.

Deputy chief executive Jenny Hogan added: “The health, safety and wellbeing of the industry’s workforce, and of the public, are paramount, and developers are constantly examining where improvements can be made as the industry grows.”