“The experiences of our past are still the best road map to our future” Should we learn from mountain accidents?-

As I am still aware of the tragic events that are happening this winter on the hills are raw to many. I know full well the consequences of this as it is my sisters nephews who were lost in last weeks huge search in the North West in the Achnasheallach area. Sadly Neil is still missing. At this time there are three winter mountaineers missing as I write this and the teams are working so hard to bring loved ones home as many forgets that these incidents are ongoing. The Police have the responsibility for mountain Rescue but how far does this go? Mountain Rescue are getting more involved in Safety issues, Mountaineering Scotland and Heather Morning the Safety Officer does a superb job but she is one person and a its huge task. There is also a Mountain Safety Committee but maybe it is time to formalise something for looking into accidents more formally? In the many countries this happens and so much is learned from it. If it looks like an equipment break crampon failure or other climbing gear if noticed it will be looked into by the B.M.C Technical Committee.

So many mountain  accidents happen and many are self explanatory a slip a fall but there are also in my opinion ones we can learn from. If you make a living in the mountains Guiding or Instructing then there may be an investigation as to what happened and the information passed on to other organisations. In the military I was on 3 accident boards and we learnt much from these. One finding was when wearing crampons wear a helmet, Simple and easy to action, it was not a witch hunt/ or blame culture but a way to learn from. Yet it could have been as there is a blame culture around especially in big organisations but when I was involved it was lessons learned from each incident. The tragic avalanche accident in the Chalamain Gap a few years ago has still not completed its findings, or am I wrong?

2018 the Year of the Cornice?

I fully understand that the last thing a family need is an enquiry in the midst of their loss but should we still not learn and pass on the messages? This winter a least two accidents have been with people falling over Cornices and we can educate folk about winter navigation and how in winter it is not hill walking but winter mountaineering.   When my best friend was killed with a pal winter climbing in Lochnagar a myself and Graham Gibb the then Braemar Team leader looked at the accident in detail and learned so much that we passed on to others. I also talk on Mountain Safety to many folk and pass on my hard won lessons from personally and from the many incidents I have been involved in. On the 4 talks I did in November on each night a family arrived at the talk and were happy that I passed on any lessons learned from their tragedy.

This was my peice a few years ago:

I have decided to write about something that few people will be aware of and

their relevance to Mountain Safety and nowadays to Mountain Rescue Funding. I

have been fortunate as for many years I was involved in meeting two of the main

protagonist of the Scottish Mountain Rescue Stats Ben Humble and John Hinde.

They compiled the Stats for the Scottish Mountain Rescue Committee; Ben was a

renowned mountaineer and had a great interest in mountain safety. When Ben

died he left a great legacy through the Scottish Mountaineering Club Annual

Journal where the Stats were put in since the early 40’s. Ben wrote and worked

tirelessly and his article “A survey of Mountain Accidents In Scotland 1925 – 45″

was a breakthrough at the time. After this Ben compiled a yearly listing of

Mountain Accidents in the Journals. It was when Ben passed away John Hinde

took over and did another outstanding job for many years; they left a unique

history and so much information for future generations especially in the aspects

of Mountain safety.

Nowadays Mountain Rescue Teams are extremely busy and after a call out the

last thing they need is to afterwards is to compile the call –out report. Yet they

are so important especially nowadays. I took over the Statistician job for several

years and had various problems keeping up with the reports. There were in these

days 400 call –outs many involving several teams. The paperwork involved was

very hard work and at times it was a constant battle to keep up to date. It

became nearly a full time job and kept me very busy in any spare time I had.

I did a talk a few years when I was the Scottish Mountain Rescue Statistician it

was to try to get the teams to realise how important they are. None of us like

paperwork but it is so essential especially when trying to raise funding from

Government Sources. I found this out the hard way in the late 80’s when they

were going to cut the RAF Teams or even get rid of them. It was a real panic but I

was the only Team with a history going back to 1944 and could prove to the

“Bean Counters” that 10% of our incidents were for military aircraft and military

personnel. That Bean Counter was put back in his box for a few more years. It

was also very relevant in the early days of trying for funding from the Scottish

Government when I was Chairman of Scottish Mountain Rescue. We had to

explain to the First Minister that Teams put in a huge amount of hours in on

training, courses and looking after equipment apart from attending incidents.

These are a few points from my talk!

Information

The information gained from a few years incidents can be so helpful to teams. It

can help show the areas in which Team Training should go. If your Team mainly

does Lowland Urban searches should you spend do much time and money on

expensive equipment on Technical gear? Maybe look more into Search planning

and training? Or if you carry out a lot searches in areas of swift water should the

training be increased in this area? Agree fully on this one. A rich profile of what a

team does and where it does it can help inform not only training (what and

where) but also what kinds of equipment to purchase. It’s all about matching

what the team does in theory to what it actually does in practice. I suspect that

in many cases this is not the case.

Also, an accurate and up-to-date picture about what happens across Scotland

can help advise the Press, Government and safety organisations such as the

MS on what aspects to focus on, and also avoid these organisations passing on year after year inaccurate myths (e.g. all mountaineers are ill equipped and

Inexperienced numpties hell bent on jumping off cliffs!)

Searches – Team areas will have accident hot spots that are current today it may be

worth having a look back and see if any changes are relevant? Casualties

do get found in areas that were hot spots in the past. At times many of the

current team may have limited knowledge of this historical fact as elder

Team member’s leave and their knowledge could be lost forever? Agree

fully. A recent Professor of IT is quoted as saying “ “The experiences of our

past are still the best road map to our future”. You are correct that hot

spots of the past disappear and new ones appear. Its only we you carry out

an objective analysis that trends like this appear. This can help a present

team to find out more about the new hot spots (where are they, how do you

gain access, what are the technical challenges, and so on). Far better to be

Pre-warned than be caught out on a rescue!

Medical – Look at the injuries your team deals with make priorities in these areas that are

you need to. If you deal with 80% ankle lower limbs make sure all can treat and

the equipment is suitable. How many stretcher carries do you do how often do

you practice? It is easy to get side tracked? Fully agree. No point in spending

£1000s on fancy kit to deal with a broken femur when your team has never ever

had such an injury! Also, if a team mainly deals with searches with no injured

people then why train numerous members to become EMTs etc, when the money

and time would be better spent on training up people to become better at

searching and search management.

 

Funding – The government are interested in Stats – man/ women hours so important. What

about the hours on training and sorting gear and exercises they are never

submitted in the figures only call out hours. What about travel to and from a call out,

sorting out gear, standby hours etc. “Bean Counters” only want numbers but

that is how it works . It is really worth working out how many hours the team

spends training/ courses and kit maintenance? It will amaze you! When you add

up all the hours carried out by every team across a full year it sums to around

40,000 hours (give or take). This translates into many, many full time police

Officers, which goes to show not only what a comprehensive job we do, but also

and how much money is saved to the public purse.

Safety/Research – The common causes of accidents in your area maybe worth alerting climbers and walkers to current trends in your area. Is safety not a Mountain Rescue Concern?

I have noticed that the Stats for Scottish Mountain Rescue still do not include all the teams

The SMR/MRS is the organisation in the BEST POSSIBLE position to advise

everyone – Press, Government, Course Providers, Governing bodies, etc, what

goes wrong. It has a moral obligation to publish its annual statistics far and wide

and in a timely manner – not two years late! Also, as a government funded

Organisation, should it have a legal responsibility to do this too? Some  of he recent accidents on Ben Nevis (winter 2015) have been in the same area and involve walkers ? Why is this trend happening?

Historical – So many casualties will come back many years later to find out what happened

to them or a loved one. It is good to have some back ground on the incident and

what happened. Many things re –occur on a regular cycle. You and I can recount

numerous instances where family members have come back to us for

information about someone in the family who died (a grid reference, more detail,

who assisted etc.) and SMR has a moral responsibility to help these people by

providing relevant information.

 

Stats are so important –

The world has changed nowadays with the Data Protection Act and personal

privacy, with new regulations to ensure that this is adhered to. We do not need to

name any casualties but age and other factors are very relevant. With one Police

Force I was assured that we would have current and accurate stats that we can

use for the next generations to learn from, I wonder how far we are from this now

the Single Police force is up and running. I feel we owe it to John Hinde, Ben

Humble and all the other Statistics Officers who maintained and published

accurate and up-to-date records to tackle this problem before it is too late.

Is it only me that sees this as a problem?

Any comments welcome?

Worth noting

Mountain Rescue England and Wales (MREW) is very open about what it does and you can download annual figures from as far back as 1980 right through to 2013.

Go to – http://www.mountain.rescue.org.uk/information-centre/incident-statistics

 

Irish MR is not quite as up to date but still open about publishing its annual stats.  Go to –

http://www.mountainrescue.ie/TeamInformation

 

Do we seem to be lagging behind?

Thanks to Bob Sharp for his input and Ben Humble and John Hinde for the inspiration!

Past Comments –  A comment 0f Congratulations on a very forceful and heartfelt defence of management information in mountain rescue.

All the points you make are valid, both north and south of the border as well as across the Irish Sea. For the last two decades I have been trying to instil these same points into the English and Welsh MRTs. I believe progress has been made but I am still not satisfied that the MREW figures are complete. For what it is worth, my sympathy goes out to all the statisticians who have followed John Hinde; not only a difficult act to follow but one made harder by poor co-operation from teams.

The production of management information is vital for the development of mountain safety and rescue. This point is well-made by Heavy. All the aspects covered by the article are essential if mountain rescue is to develop in a way that reflects changes in society. Without this steady flow of information, it is likely that lessons will be overlooked, will not be learned or quickly be forgotten.

Please consider publishing your article further afield. It might even blow some of the blinkers away. From down South!

Any comments.

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 Avalanche info, Enviroment, Family, Friends, Gear, Lectures, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Munros, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Views Political?, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to “The experiences of our past are still the best road map to our future” Should we learn from mountain accidents?-

  1. Good piece. Been watching the cornice collpaes on Wyvis throug the telescope this winter – some real bruisers. I wrote this a few years ago – might be of interest, observations on mountain incidents from a more ’emotional’ and artistic perspective, not sure if you’ve seen Henry Iddon’s work?: https://www.duckrabbit.info/2013/01/the-landscape-of-emotion/

    Like

  2. Every fatality should be written up and published in an accessible form. Real names don’t need to be given just a clear, concise explanation of what happened and why. It’s crucial not to pull any punches. Many incidents will ultimately be caused by human error and we need to understand that clearly if other people are to learn and avoid the same mistakes.

    Liked by 1 person

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