Last year I decided to rejoin the Dartmoor Rescue Group having been a member in the 1980’s
The Dartmoor Rescue Group started in 1968 in the Tavistock area when a small group of local moorland enthusiasts started helping the police with search and rescue on Dartmoor. Since then the group has grown to four sections (Ashburton, Tavistock, North Dartmoor and Plymouth), each a
separate charity, affiliated to the Mountain Rescue Council, that not just provide a search and rescue expertise to the Police to cover the Dartmoor National Park, but also the rest of Devon and can be called to support other teams in Cornwall and Exmoor. The work is varied from finding people who are lost and want to be found, to others who perhaps don’t want to be found for suicidal or criminal reasons, or are suffering from dementia or Alzheimers.
In order to become a member, you have to undergo a selection day where you are given an introduction to the workings and equipment of the group, along with a written test and a navigation test on the open moor to see if you have the potential. If you are lucky enough to be selected you are invited to become a trainee and the hard work just begins.
Us trainees are each given a logbook that requires signing off as you complete each area of training to the standard required. This includes micro navigation, radio comm.’s, casualty care, search techniques, working with search and rescue dogs, water, rope work the list goes on. We train every Wednesday night throughout the year whatever the weather. There is always more to learn and having so many experienced people around you willing to share their knowledge makes the whole experience very enjoyable and worthwhile.
One of the most eagerly anticipated parts of the training is the ‘Helicopter training’. So last weekend myself and my fellow trainees travelled to RAF Chivenor in North Devon, the home of 22 Squadron that provides 24×365 air sea rescue cover across the South and West of The British Isles stretching into the Atlantic. The squadron has 2 operational Sea King helicopters that have an effective range of 250 Miles + 30 minutes winch time before having to return to base.
After watching the introductory video giving us the low-down on safety procedures, it was into the crew room for a cuppa (what else!) and ready for our tour of the Sea King in which we would be flying later. 2 members of the crew showed us all we needed to know to remain safe when approaching the aircraft, when inside and when we left either on foot or by winch.
Then it was back for another cuppa and ready for the off as the helicopter was prepared.
The crew took off and did their in-flight checks then returned and landed near where we were ready in our stick formation to board. Waiting for the thumbs up from the winch operator we approached and were directed to where we should sit along with our kit. Then we were airborne.
After about 20 minutes as we circled around Barnstaple and the North Devon coast with front row views straight out the open side door, it was back to the airfield to hover and await our summons to the winch. 2 at a time sat with our legs dangling out the door in the slings as our rucksacks were attached to the cable along with us, then before we knew it we were off and in the downdraft as were lowered to the ground.
It wasn’t far to the ground, probably only about 20 metres but it was enough for me to keep the grin on my face for the rest of the day. Then, the Sea King disappeared off down the coast as the crew went on another training flight.
The RAF and Royal Navy Search and Rescue crews stationed around the country do a difficult job very well. Providing cover not just for mariners and mountaineers, but also the general public. Whether it’s rescuing people stranded by floods or transporting the ill and injured to specialty medical units around the country. The men and women of 22 Squadron made us very welcome. We came away with a huge respect for them all and very grateful for the job they do.
Following our initial training, we have further search and rescue exercises coming up to prepare us for the day when we do it for real. I can’t think of anybody I’d rather have on standby if I ever needed them.
So, thanks guys, not only did we have a very worthwhile and enjoyable day, but also learnt a lot about what you do, how you do it, and what we need to do to work safely with you.
The Ashburton Section of the Dartmoor Rescue Group is a charity relying completely on voluntary contributions and the generousity of its volunteers to survive. If you would like to make a donation it will be very gratefully received.