Brecon Beacons Casualties – UK SF “Fan Dance”

Pen-y-Fan UK SF Fan Dance Test

By Pat Carty.

Following an official “Freedom of Information” request made to the British Government in December 2020, the Ministry of Defence has released the total number of British Armed Forces personnel, who have lost their lives in the Brecon Beacons in Wales. This is an area used for generations by Special Forces and in particular for selection, including the notorious “Fan Dance” tests.

For those unaware, the “Fan Dance” is a 15-mile (24 km) load-bearing March, which takes place at the end of the first week of SF selection. The candidates climb “Pen y Fan” – the highest mountain in the Brecon Beacons. Then descend the far side; known as “Jacob’s Ladder”. The rest of the route follows the old Roman road before going back on itself for the return leg. Candidates are given 4 hours 10 minutes to complete the route, regardless of the weather. The Fan Dance is the world’s oldest SF test and used as the first major indicator to show if a candidate has the physical and mental aptitude to complete the legendary SF Selection course.

The Freedom of Information request came from a member of the public. It followed discussions with local councilors and politicians about erecting a memorial, remembering service personnel who had lost their lives whilst training in the Beacons. One of the causalities, having been a close friend, was killed during Special Force selection.

Following the information request, the Ministry of Defence confirmed that in the period they hold records for; 1 January 1984 to 31 December 2019 (the last full year available), twenty UK armed forces personnel have died in the Brecon Beacons. I should add that those figures include all tri-Service regular personnel killed, both on, and off duty, whilst the data for reserve troops only shows those killed whilst on duty.

The Defence Ministry also confirmed that the numbers were for all causes of death: accidents, natural causes, or coroner confirmed suicide. Plus open verdicts where the cause was not known.

Fan Dance - Avalanche Endurance Events

Photo: “Fan Dance” by Avalanche Endurance Events.

Civilians can experience a civilian version of the Fan Dance test, especially those whose intention is to apply for future SF selection, which is run on similar lines to SF selection tests, but by former SF personnel.

Fan Dance Test - Avalanche Endurance Events

Photo: “Fan Dance” by Avalanche Endurance Events

Held in both summer and winter, again similar to SF selection, these civilian versions of the “The Fan Dance” include both “load-bearing” and “clean fatigue” categories and are also held during both day and night. The “Fan Dance Woodhouse Edition” even copies the original post-WWII Fan Dance and includes three ascents of Pen y Fan. If you are ultra keen, there is even the 50km “Blade Runner Ultra Series”, again staged in the area used for SF selection, and utilising many iconic and legendary landmarks and features, used in the world-famous SAS Aptitude phase.

More information on the various “Fan Dance” events is available from the organisers; Avalanche Endurance Events at: https://www.avalancheenduranceevents.com/home.html

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Top Photo: The Pen-y-Fan viewed from Cribyn. Photo by Dave Dunford.

Author: Pat Carty is a NATO accredited journalist who covers military news, events, operations, and exercises; including special operations forces. He is a contributor to SOF News as well as several other military defense publications.


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