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Team Leader's Report 2012

When I took over as team leader in January, I had hoped for a quiet winter.  Unfortunately, that was not to be and we ended up with two callouts within the first week.  The first was “The Nightmare Scenario”, a lone walker missing somewhere in the Cairngorms!  After three days searching in some very poor conditions, the search was called off.  Although narrowed down to a smaller area we still had no find and hopes of a successful conclusion had gone.  Team Members continued to search either in their own time and/or during team training days for weeks and months after the initial search, in an attempt to try to bring closure for the family.  Eventually, when the snow had sufficiently receded, the RAF Search and Rescue helicopter made the find whilst on a training flight. The second shout was to the Glenshee area, again for a lone missing walker.  This time the weather conditions were quite appalling with heavy snow, high wind, low cloud and some areas of the highest avalanche risk that I’ve had to walk in during my 25 years in the team. Fortunately, our missing person had dug into a snow hole to sit out worsening weather and emerged when conditions had improved to be found quite quickly after that.

We have gone on to have one of our busier years with a number of callouts for a variety of incidents all over the Grampian area: from Auchenblae to Bennachie, from Fochabers to Gartly, as well as the usual Lochnagar and  Cairngorms.  It’s at this point I would like to pay tribute to the Team members and their families, and say thank you for getting up out of a warm bed in the middle of the night to do a difficult and sometimes dangerous job.  It is much appreciated, he sacrifices that ‘extended’ families have to make when a Team member has to miss a family gathering or forgo the day off they had planned together, to attend an actual callout, a training event or deliver a presentation.  The amount of volunteer hours that Team members (and Association members) give is incredible and a hidden element of the Teams’ success and ability to perform.

Team members continue to promote safety in the hills, by giving talks, presentations and demonstrations to clubs and groups.  Although I suspect most of the time they are preaching to the converted, it is always good to reinforce the message.  And if there is one message I can’t stress highly enough, it is to leave a route plan with a loved one or a friend.  It doesn’t have to be a major document, just note down the hills you intend doing; which way in and up and which way down and out you’ll be walking or climbing.  If the unthinkable does happen then this is your best insurance policy for a speedier find.

Training continues to be a major focus of Team life with a number of members attending avalanche and technical rigging courses.  Organised and run by the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland, these are designed to bring together Mountain Rescue personnel from all over Scotland to share fresh ideas, to hear and receive the latest techniques and develop best practice.  This information can then be fed into the teams own training programme so we are all up to date in the skills necessary to be as committed, proficient and professional as possible.  This year we have had to train the younger members of the Team to pass a driving test which allows them to drive Team vehicles whilst towing a trailer.  Previously, when you passed the driving test it allowed you to drive a number of different classes of vehicle.  As many of you will probably be aware there are now manymore legal and/or Health and Safety restrictions that constrain the way ‘business’ has to operate.  Unfortunately changing the Team vehicles to either a minibus or large van would not help as this too requires a test. This new government tax and restriction has placed a heavy burden on the Team’s training time and precious money resources.  Again I wish to express my gratitude to Team members, private organisations and donors who have leant us equipment or given us their time to ensure we are ‘fit for purpose’.

Modern technology continues to forge ahead with new ways for people to get into difficulties.  This year saw the first instance of someone attempting to navigate using a smart phone and Google maps, funny now, but the consequences could have been so much worse.  Being tracked by your mobile phone is now also possible, so ‘her / him indoors’ can see that you are walking in the hills and not down the pub with mates!  The cautionary tale here is that when the computer screen no longer shows a track, it does not necessarily mean that the loved one has had a catastrophic accident; it could be just a flat battery.  Personal locator beacons (now legal to use in this country) have not as yet had the effect that was feared by some team leaders, so I will say no more on that front in case fate is tempted.

You may have noticed in the press recently that following a search and rescue call out for a missing walker, one of our members had his car broken into and team equipment stolen from it.  I find it difficult to understand the mentality of someone taking stuff that was marked as rescue equipment and can’t believe that they would have had use for the likes of an avalanche probe or transceiver.  Faith in my fellow human beings was restored a little following this, when an anonymous donation came through the team letterbox to help towards the financialreplacement of the stolen kit.  Our sincere and grateful thanks go out to this person.

2012 saw the Queen’s Diamond jubilee and as well as a day off, members of the emergency services who had over five years service were awarded a medal for their services.  We were honoured to have ours presented by Norman Smith, Deputy Lord Provost for Aberdeenshire Council.

‘The times they are a changing’:  It will not have escaped anyone’s notice that after April we will move to a single police force for Scotland, currently there are eight police authorities, each deals with mountain rescue and missing persons in their own way.  Three of these authorities have their own mountain rescue team, Grampian being one.  Assurances have been given that there will be no change to service come the first of April.  Perhaps it is just me, but it is my personal opinion that change will happen, maybe not initially, but once the bean counters get going, perhaps police teams will disappear, placing a greater burden of responsibility on civilian teams and team leaders.

I would like to close my report by thanking Dawn and the members of the Association who do sterling work to keep the team funded and well equipped, an uphill task at times. To members of the public who come on our sponsored walk, send in donations or simply put some coins in our collecting cans thank you, without your support we could not function.  Now get out there and enjoy those hills safely.

Mike Riddell

Team Leader