The Changes in Mountain Rescue – Part 2 Avalanches Training. SARDA. Team Leaders special people

This is a continuing look at the changes in Mountain Rescue since the forming of the Committee in 1965 for a chat I am doing at Glenmore Lodge on Friday night.

Avalanche Training/ Education.

A Chance in a Million - A great insight into Avalanches a must read for all winter lovers.

A Chance in a Million – A great insight into Avalanches a must read for all winter lovers.

There was a saying that in these early days of Mountain Rescue in Scotland there was no such thing as Avalanches . Unfortunately this is untrue as over the years many have died in huge avalanches in Scotland. I have with Bob Sharp a few years ago completed a survey on the Avalanche accidents from 1980 – 2009, it is tragic reading. The report was done in Memory Of Blyth Wright a great pal who was one of the founding fathers of Scotland’s Avalanche Information Service. Blyth was fortunately one of a few select people who disagreed and with lots of effort the Scottish Avalanche Information Service was formed with a small grant from Sports Scotland.

2015 sais logo

It took a lot of work and effort as a few of the mountaineering fraternity thought at the time that it was a waste of money. It took years to change attitudes and in the end we now have a modern Service covering 6 areas in Scotland during the winter months. It is now as accepted by Mountaineers and Skiers as is the daily weather forecast for planning a winter day. It is still financed by Sports Scotland and is a great part of winter preparation for many.   Constant education is needed to pass and educate the mountaineering world on the dangers involved in the winter mountains. Scottish Mountain Rescue Teams have improved training specifically for Avalanches and run an annual Courses to ensure teams stay up to date and work safely in a dangerous environment.

Scottish Mountain Rescue Avalanche Course in the Cairngorms.

Scottish Mountain Rescue Avalanche Course in the Cairngorms.

Modern technology has moved on and most teams have costly but essential avalanche receivers for personal use and rescue gear specifically for avalanches such as probes and shovels.    Avalanches  will continue to be of huge public and media interest and  educating the  both the mountaineering fraternity and the public is a constant battle. Avalanche awareness  has come a long way when teams used bamboo canes and gas piping as probes and heavy industrial coal shovels for digging out survivors.

1959 Avalanche Ben Nevis Gas piping modified by RAF Searchers as probes..

1959 Avalanche Ben Nevis Gas piping modified by RAF Searchers as probes..


SARDA – In 1965 Hamish Mac Innes and friends  founded the Search and Rescue Dog Association in Scotland. The work of the Search Dogs is well-known and the idea was taken from the Alps and we now have Dogs all over the UK.  The work of the SARDA Dogs has changed over the years as the incidents of non – mountaineering incidents have increased and are now on third on average of all incidents.

Fifty Years and counting !

Fifty Years and counting !


SARDA are used heavily by Police to Search for “vulnerable people” as Society moves on in these ever-changing days.   Most Mountain Rescue teams have SARDA members within their team but SARDA holds its own training for Dogs and handlers monthly and annually an assessment. It is a long hard route to have a trained Search Dog and takes several years and a huge effort of time in training .  Dogs are also called out by the Police independently through SARDA and often work alone with their Dogs. Times have changed since these early days in 1965 and now we have SARDA (Scotland) and SARDA (Southern Scotland)

Team Leaders

Every Mountain Rescue team has a Team Leader – it is now a modern management buzz word yet Mountain Rescue has had this since its early days. It is one of the most difficult jobs anyone will undertake in my view. I was lucky as a member of the RAF Rescue I completed a RAF Team Leaders course after a long apprenticeship. It was a long journey over many years and gave me a good start into running an RAF Team and was a full – time job. The course covered a huge amount and I have all the military mountaineering qualifications then came a myriad of others. Search Planning, Media training, First Aid, Instructional Techniques and many more.  My civilian counterparts did not have this opportunity and much of the learning was on the job. I have always been so impressed how they rose to the constant challenges, amazing people.

Skye search two teams as the mist clears and we decide where we are!

Skye search two teams as the mist clears and we decide where we are!

I was told by once by a  Civilian Team Leader that it was a job “ With huge responsibility, incredibly long hours, life making decisions, a huge commitment on your family life and no pay or recognition” In an ever-changing world and expectations of the Public and the Agencies you work with” But it was the best job in the world at times when you save a life and bring someone back to a relative or family. It was also agreed by many Team Leaders that it is a constant worry when in wild weather the team is out trying to find a casualty. We do worry for the teams safety especially after a long call – out, when the teams are tired. Few teams rarely say no due to weather or conditions but at times these decisions have to be made. Mountain Rescue Teams have no special favours from nature on a dangerous incident, great care and hard decisions have to be made by these incredible people. All teams have  a Deputy Team Leader some have a few that share the responsibilities and for many it is learning on the job. It is a huge difference from being a member of team on the hill, a hill leader to running a search and talking to the Agencies and relatives of a missing person. Huge responsibility and incredibly all manage it over the years.

Terry Cornfield Lochaber MRT and Dan Carrol RAF Kinloss MRT - Great examples of Team Leaders.

Terry Cornfield Lochaber MRT and Dan Carrol RAF Kinloss MRT – Great examples of Team Leaders To follow.

Over the years there have been a few tragedies in Mountain Rescue it is incredible that there has not been more. We must be doing many things right?

More to follow tomorrow?

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Aircraft incidents, Avalanche info, Books, Friends, History, medical, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

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