Volunteer rescuers’ sad job to recover lifeless body

Tryfan in Snowdonia.

Tryfan in Snowdonia.

My heart goes out to not only the husband and family of the woman who fell 150 feet to her death on Snowdonia’s Tryfan mountain on Friday but also to the volunteer mountain rescuers who searched for her and eventually found her body.

Obviously the loss felt by a husband or immediate family member cannot be compared but to be a member of a mountain rescue team dedicated to saving life and, instead, having to find and recover a walker’s lifeless body is stressful too.

Remember, all mountain rescue teams in the UK are made-up purely of volunteers who often risk their own lives to save others.

On this occasion, more than 20 rescuers were drawn from three local teams: Ogwen Valley, Llanberis and Aberglaslyn.

The woman, from Stockport in Greater Manchester, and her husband were both well-equipped according to rescuers. They were descending Tryfan’s North Ridge/West Face late in the day when she fell. Her husband was unable to reach her and called for help.

A nine-hour operation, involving the three rescue teams and a Coastguard Helicopter, led to her body being found early Saturday morning.

The summit of Tryfan is 917.5m (3,010 ft) above sea level. It is the 15th highest mountain in Wales. 

 

Related posts that may be of interest:

Rescuers’ story stirs up web interest https://50shadesofsun.wordpress.com/2015/09/08/rescuers-story-stirs-up-web-interest/

Hero volunteers need support https://50shadesofsun.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/hero-volunteers-need-support/

 

Search and Rescue dogs have key role worldwide

911 dog

There seems to be a sizeable portion of the readers of this blog who take more than a passing interest in the lifesaving activities of mountain rescue teams and another group of people who love to read about dogs and other animals.

Well, today’s blog should satisfy them all as it is all about search and rescue dogs.

These are known throughout the world for their work in finding missing people or those buried by masses of avalanche snow or rubble from collapsed buildings. They always seem to be at the heart of post-earthquake searches and were an important part of the search operation at Ground Zero, in the wake of the 9/11 Twin Towers disaster in New York.

This year, 13 years after that terrible time, golden retriever Bretagne, the last surviving rescue dog who searched Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, revisited the scene.

In September, aged nearly 16 and enjoying her retirement, Bretagne returned to the Manhattan site for the first time since 2001, accompanied by Denise Corliss, her longtime handler and owner. They live now, as then, in Texas.

Nearer to my home, if a search dog is needed then police or rescue teams call upon the services of members and dogs of SARDA, the Search and Rescue Dogs Association.

helencluanieSARDA Wales is a specialist Search Dog component of Mountain Rescue (England and Wales) and are permanently staffed by unpaid volunteer dog handlers and their dogs to provide a search and rescue service to the Police, Mountain Rescue & Coastguard.

Dogs are trained in specialist skills including air scenting and trailing dogs to search for missing people in mountain, rural and urban locations. The association has 80-90 call outs each year in North Wales including missing children, vulnerable adults, dementia patients as well as hill walkers and mountaineers. Handlers and dogs are on call 365 days per year in any weather.

There is no doubt that handlers love their dogs and are united by a willingness to go out in any weather at any time of day to search for missing people anywhere in North Wales and occasionally beyond. Many SARDA Wales handlers are also members of Mountain Rescue teams. The three nearest me, Llanberis, Ogwen Valley and Aberglaslyn teams, have SARDA handlers and dogs in their organisations.

It takes many hours of commitment to train a search dog and it’s a continual process throughout each dog’s working career with the dogs and handlers regularly being assessed to ensure that they maintain the higantmossh standards for which they have come to be well-known.

Every mountain dog handler is an accomplished climber and mountaineer in their own right in summer and winter conditions, as well as being a member of a Mountain Rescue Team. Mountain dog teams are assessed at lowland standard first and then go on to be assessed at mountain level. Skills include avalanche searches and every handler is equipped to be self-sufficient in all weathers and conditions. Handlers play key roles in their own rescue teams as well as being available as a dog team to every other rescue team in North Wales.

All SARDA air scenting dog teams train as lowland search teams. They are trained and assessed to cover open areas, buildings, woodland, sand dunes and caravan parks and this type of work forms the majority of call outs. Lowland areas can be extremely complex to search and require a great deal of skill from both dog and handler. There are often many distractions and the dog will often be working out of sight in complex ground.

The trailing dogs can follow a scent of a specific person from the point that they were last seen. They can work in almost any area from urban to mountain and are trained to ignore other scents to find only the person for whom they are looking.

Running SARDA and its training and assessment operations is not cheap. As I have said, they are all volunteers, all unpaid, and they rely entirely on donations to fund the association.

salspinTo give you an idea of the costs involved, here is a summary of its main expenditure items: Assessment Weekend – Cost £2000; Training Weekend with accommodation and catering – £750; Equip a new dog team – £2000; Search Managers Lap Top with software – £1000; Re-equip an existing dog team with new waterproofs – £500; Cover a dog teams motor expenses for a year – £300; and cover a search dogs annual pet insurance – £300.

In total, SARDA Wales’s annual running costs average about £20,000 and its only income is from public donations.

If you’d like to make a donation, you can do so online by following this link or use your mobile phone (cellphone)  to text SDOG01 £5 to 70070 to donate (of course, you can change the amount)

Practical support is also welcome. Volunteers are needed as ‘Dogsbodies’ and to help with catering at training/assessment weekends.

Dogsbodies are vital as without bodies to find the dogs cannot train. Volunteer Dogsbodies will get a friendly welcome, free food and accommodation in North Wales for the weekend and join the team as a valued member.

Some important qualities are: You must like dogs and be happy to get wet and slobbered on! Must have a sense of humour and be prepared to hide in obscure places in all weathers. Lastly, you must be happy to take instructions.

Anyone interested should email info@sardawales.org.uk for further details.

 

Pictures, from top:

Bretagne, 9/11 search dog, now retired

Helen with Cluanie, Llanberis MRT

Antony with Moss, Aberglaslyn MRT

Sally with Spin, Ogwen Valley MRT

Rescuers’ story stirs up web interest

oggie rescue 

Ogwen Valley team members prepare to rescue trapped climbers

Oh wow. What a fantastic three days since this blog on Saturday featured the work of the UK’s volunteer mountain rescue teams.

It has been tweeted, retweeted, appeared on other social media and has generated a wonderful reaction. I just hope it helps the Llanberis team to raise enough extra cash to pay for the essential repairs to their three vehicles. Why does anyone intentionally damage what are three essentially emergency service ambulances/rescue team transporters? Such mindless acts are beyond my level of understanding.

One of the tweets received was from the mountain rescuers. They thanked me for what they described as my ‘kind’ words. Well, ok the blog post was certainly not unkind but ‘kind’, no. The words used were carefully chosen, they were accurate and truthful. Such people are largely unsung heroes who face each challenge with courage and determination.

Of course, although the post only mentioned the two teams who operate nearest to my home, there are so many other teams around the country whose members are as equally dedicated, brave and committed to keeping alive anyone who runs into trouble on their ‘patch’.

Then there are similar volunteers who belong to cave rescue organisations. These people, all experienced and highly trained potholers, descend into the depths of the earth to find and rescue anyone who is having difficulty returning to the surface.

I have only tried exploring a cave system once – and that was as an adult leader with the Scouts while under the care of a professional guide. The cave was not difficult because the Scouts could be as young as 11 but trying to squeeze through narrow gaps while crawling snakelike on my stomach was not a pleasant experience. There may have been no fear showing externally but, oh boy, to get outside again was just heavenly. Never again, that was the private and silent vow made.

• Towards the end of last week, police were concerned over the safety of Stephen Longfellow, an experienced walker who was missing. They had found his car by Tryfan, one of Snowdonia’s most impressive mountains. It is a challenge to reach the summit, something I did years ago, but there are many places of danger on the mountain and in the surrounding area.missing man

Tryfan is slap bang in the middle of Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue team’s patch and so their members were asked by the police to look for the missing man. Searches were mounted in the midst of other rescue call-outs.

Now, there is a difference between searching for someone who is known to be alive or who has not been      Stephen Longfellow                                                        lost and maybe injured for long as against someone who has been missing for days. In the latter case, they hope to find and rescue whoever it is but they realise it may be a search and recover operation instead of a rescue. 

This time, unfortunately, the Oggie team members had to recover a man’s lifeless body after they found it on Sunday. The body was then taken for formal identification. The team’s Chris Lloyd told the BBC that he believed the man had fallen “quite some distance”.

As you can see, not all search and rescue operations have joyous endings.

Hero volunteers need support

Llanberis MR team

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team using stretcher to remove casualty to safety.

Everybody has their own ideas about what makes someone a hero and, of course I have tremendous respect for everyone doing difficult and often dangerous jobs in the armed forces and the main emergency services – police, firefighters, ambulance crews and coastguards.

They key word there, though, is ‘job’; they are being paid to do that, although that makes it no less dangerous and often they go above and beyond what duty demands.

Similarly, I am not wishing to underplay the importance of once in a lifetime acts of heroism by anybody faced with a difficult situation and attempting to save the day. Each such act, though, is very much a one-off.

The people who I admire and feel deserve greater recognition for their dedication, commitment and heroic actions in all sorts of often atrocious weather conditions are the members of our mountain rescue teams as well as the crews of the lifeboats that dot the shores of the UK.

These people are all volunteers. Climbers who have decided to help others and seafaring folk who have chosen to put other peoples’ lives first at sea.

Fairly close to where I currently live, there are two superbly run teams of mountain rescuers: Llanberis and Ogwen Valley. There are plenty more but I got to know some of the members of these over the last 20-plus years. In fact, so long has it been that the ones I knew have probably all retired by now.

Anyway, to cut a long story down a bit, Llanberis Mountain Rescue team, whose patch includes Snowdon itself, have just dealt with the busiest month in their long history. They were called out an amazing 34 times in August, with the most hectic day being Wednesday 12th. This involved responding to seven call-outs in just five hours. And as most rescues can take a few hours, they often had to have more than one rescue team out at the same time.

Chairman of the Llanberis team is Rob Johnson said: “More than half of the 34 incidents that we were called to in August were as a result of people being lost on the mountain. With a little preparation this is not necessary.

“People often treat Snowdon as a tourist destination, rather than a mountain, and this leads people into being poorly equipped for the conditions the mountain often presents. Having a map and a compass and the knowledge of how to use them costs very little but will massively add to the enjoyment of a mountain day and will take a great strain off volunteer rescue services.”

The problem seems to be that Snowdon has a railway linking Llanberis with the summit where, during the summer tourist season, the building is open and houses a café, bar, gift shop and other facilities. It is easy to see how people do get the ‘tourist attraction’ impression.

Actually, I must share this true story with you. Before I was diagnosed with MS and at a time I could still get around easily, I loved to go mountain walking. Well, this day I had walked up to the top of Snowdon and after getting my fill of great views in all directions (not possible when the clouds roll in), I decided to enjoy a cuppa before starting the descent. No sooner had I sat down in the café than a trainload of tourists arrived. One woman spotted a dog and said if she had known dogs were allowed, she’d have brought her beloved pet with her.

I am afraid that I could not help myself. “Madam,” I said,sarda dog “That is a Search and Rescue dog.”

She was surprised and said, “Do people get lost up here then?” She had no idea how dangerous Snowdon and the other mountains are. “Madam, people die up here,” I replied.

                                       Search and Rescue Dog ready for action.

 

♦ Finally, I am sad to report that all three of the Llanberis team vehicles were disabled during an attempted theft of their doors. The would-be thieves also cut through wiring in an attempt to disable the alarms.

Llanberis MR team vandalised

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Team vehicles with doors removed and wiring cut.

 

Police are investigating and the team is having to rely on neighbouring teams for vehicles as Llanberis team has been left unable to deploy team members or equipment.

Since posting about their loss on Facebook, the team has received a great level of support with many people asking how they can donate. If you would like to help these brave volunteers get back on the road, you can donate by visiting the donation page of the team’s website here: http://www.llanberismountainrescue.co.uk/donate

You can also donate via text, by sending a message to 70070 and writing: “LMRT14” followed by the amount you’d like to donate e.g. “£5” or “£10”. I know they would be thankful for any donation, however small.