A few thoughts on working with the Media over the years in Mountain Rescue.

How things have changed from my early days when we rarely spoke to the media. It was a different era then. Most Mountain Rescue teams and SARDA did the job and that was that. Nowadays news is instant and you are only a few minutes away from putting the news out on so many platforms.

One can only imagine in the past when there was no communications with teams . How did the families of the Mountain Rescue Teams cope? They’ve saw their loved ones go out in the middle of the night. Sometimes not hearing from them till they returned.

When I joined in 1971 there were a few tales of press trying to get photos of fatalities as they were taking off the hill. Teams like todays were very respectful of the casualties and waiting friends and families. As most team members were mountaineers or lovers of the mountains. If it was a bad accident there was little said. Many thought “there by the grace of God” it could have been one of us. Often it was someone we knew personally that made things hard.

There were few teams had Mountain Rescue bases in these days. Control wagons and cars were where we took casualties to if we could not get a helicopter due to weather or darkness. There were no night vision goggles till much later. It was very basic.

Often the Media were there in the wee small hours a few were after sensation especially during big winter incidents. Many had no knowledge of mountaineering and there were debates about Insurance etc on the media. Avalanches as nowadays seemed to be hugely news worthy.

Things changed for me in 1988 when Lockerbie happened. The worlds media arrived and Satellite television gave instant news as it happened. The worlds Media on scene were there very quickly it was overwhelming and no one was prepared for it. I found myself talking to the Worlds press live. All I could say was we were all doing our best and getting great support locally from all the Agencies and from the local folk despite the tragedy that engulfed them.

When we arrived back I was briefed that I was scruffy on the television! Anyway after that a few of us got Media training that helped so much. The media wanted words from those who were there not someone who had little knowledge of what was going on.

As I said many in the team shunned any publicity. Yet forvthose who waited at home had little clue what we were doing, It should be noted that a lot of our bosses at work thought the troops were on a skive at times.

In the Two RAF teams in Scotland at the time we were all over Scotland helping the local teams. Often away for days with only a local call box for the team to phone home. Many of the incidents we dealt with were tragic and these were the days before the effects of Trauma were accepted.

I decided to push the teams Public Relations and built up many trusted contacts in the years that followed. I was always aware that any search was a huge joint effort by all Agencies involved and when we saved a life it was joyous.

I made a point of never blaming those involved in an incident.Most had learned from the experience. I looked at every mountain accident we were involved in over the years and how we could learn from them.

Off course there were times we got it wrong but we learned quickly it was a new and ever changing world as it is now.

Yet even recently some great rescues go under the radar. There was a big incident in Skye in a remote area that few know about. A life was saved and the team and other locals all helped it hardly made the papers. Teams do not want praise but I feel many need a bit of acknowledgement at times.

With winter approaching there sadly will be some big rescues and tragedies. The Mountain Rescue Teams and SARDA will deal with them in their own way. Things have moved on all teams have bases where relatives and friends can be briefed a far cry from a cold wagon on a winters night.

Despite the mess the World is in in Uk we have so many volunteer agencies that help every day. We rarely hear the stories but there all out there still.

Thank you all.

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
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