Missing on Dartmoor

Dartmoor National Park, a wilderness

Every Wednesday night throughout the year the Dartmoor Search & Rescue Team – Ashburton meets at various locations across the moor to train on aspects of search and rescue. During the summer months, this tends to be the more technical aspects such as rope and swift water rescue, with the wild and dark winter evenings spent training on search and rescue exercise (sar-ex) scenarios as well as navigation and related topics


Team members are required to attend at least 12 winter and 6 summer meets to make sure they are kept up to date with all aspects of the potential callouts we could be involved in.

Last Wednesday, a blustery and showery autumn evening, was a sar-ex with the rendezvous (rv) being Coombestone Tor,  a short distance from the honey pot that is Dartmeet.  The control vehicle was deployed in the car park, the mast erected to aid our radio communications and the petrol generator started to provide light for the search managers and power for the laptops and radios that are used to manage the deployment of the teams to the search areas.

As members arrive, they hand in their ‘Team cards’ so that the search managers can see who is available, and they are assigned into small teams with a particular task or search area  to complete. Each team divides up its team kit bag which includes items such as a strobe, first aid kit, police tape, rope and bothy bags (kizus) between the members. Next, jobs are allocated such as navigator, radio operator and first aider, then the team heads off with the glow from their head torches disappearing into the dark open moor.


This week’s scenario was 3 people had left Sheepstor heading towards Dartmeet. One member had slipped and one had walked off to raise the alarm. Our team of 5 had a point given as a last sighting on Holne Moor, so it was all haste off to that grid reference to begin a radial search for the still missing pair. Into a strong wind with heavy showers we walked, scanning the dark saturated moor with our search torches for any signs of the missing persons. Reaching the top of Holne Ridge with no sign so far, we began a coordinated radial search and soon  our first missing person had been located. Wet but in good health, he told us what he knew and where he thought he last saw his injured friend. Trying to make sense of his confused state and the information he gave us, we narrowed down possible areas where the casualty could be. 15 minutes later he was found at the bottom of a steep gully, a remnant of the tin mining in the area, with an injured ankle.


The first aider gets to work doing a primary assessment of his condition and the urgency of his evacuation, sheltering the casualty in the kizu and reporting to the team leader the recommended course of action. Stretcher required, splints, Entinox and Oxygen. Relayed by radio to the Search Manager who organises support from our colleagues who start to converge on our location, by now marked by a green flashing strobe light, to help with the casualty evacuation.


Soon the casualty is ‘packaged’, ready to go as the extra teams arrive with the equipment, manpower and stretcher. On to the stretcher and the long walk back to the Control vehicle begins with the First Aider checking the casualty continually.

The Control vehicle lights shine like a beacon as we make the final approach into the car park. A successful night and the debrief in the rain on what lessons could be learnt and how we could improve.


Finally the debrief is over, kit returned and packed and the Control vehicle mast and generator dismantled. Its approaching 10:30pm and its time to head off to the pub for a pint and a spot of socialising with the faces behind the torch lights. This week, the Church House Inn at Holne who pull out the stops and welcome us with an open fire and a plate of sausages and chips to accompany a pint. A fine way to finish an excellent evening, already looking forward to next week’s training.

Post notes

The Dartmoor Search & Rescue Team – Ashburton is a charity staffed completely of volunteers who are on call 24×365 to seach for missing and vulnerable people across Dartmoor and Devon. The charity rely’s almost entirely on public donations to continue to offer the vital service they provide.

You can donate here: https://www.dsrtashburton.org.uk/donate



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