We all hope we don't need it but it's there if we do
All those who go to wild and remote places to enjoy the freedom of the great outdoors take responsibility for themselves and their own safety, but outdoor enthusiasts are aware that their safety cannot be guaranteed. Every year in Scotland there are incidents and accidents involving people who get into trouble on the hills, lochs, moors and inshore waters often in areas which are hard to reach. What would you do if this happened to you? You would reach for your phone and dial 999 (or 112 - more about this below). That call will go through to a call handing centre who will take it from there and alert the appropriate emergency service - and one of those could be a mountain rescue team.
But who exactly are these mountain rescue teams? In the UK they fall into three categories - civilian mountain rescue teams, police mountain rescue teams and - until recently - the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Search and Rescue helicopters (more about this below).
The early days of civilian mountain rescue teams
|Public domain image from The British Library|
Over time there grew a realisation that this system was inadequate and the first ''proper'' civilian mountain rescue teams began to come into existence. The first official one was set up in the Lake District in England in 1947 - the Conniston Fells Rescue Party (now the Conniston MRT). Others soon followed.
In Scotland, a similar process occurred until the entire country was served by volunteer mountain rescue teams. Currently, there are 24 civilian mountain rescue teams in Scotland plus two Search and Rescue Dog Association teams and one specialist cave rescue team and every single one of the 1000 or so members is an enthusiastic mountaineer and climber - and an unpaid volunteer. They all come under the auspices of Scottish Mountain Rescue which is a registered charity.
|CC0 image from Pixabay|
Police mountain rescue teams
|Free image from Gary Watt/Wikipedia|
Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service
This article is not intended as a history of rescue services in the Scottish hills but it is interesting to understand how and why the RAF Mountain Rescue Service came into being. Ever since the Wright brothers first took to the air in a powered aircraft there have been accidents and, given the nature of aircraft which can go anywhere over land or water, many of these crashes happened in remote places particularly in poor weather conditions over mountains
Obviously, military authorities had a responsibility to their aircrew and were duty bound to seek out and rescue survivors of any aircraft crash. At first this was an ad hoc affair - a rescue party would be cobbled together from medical personnel and knowledgeable servicemen from the nearest RAF station and a rescue attempt would be made. This was soon recognised to be inadequate. Mountain rescue, especially in poor weather conditions, requires well-trained, well-equipped and highly-motivated personnel and one incident in particular brought these facts home to the military authorities, the mountaineering community and the general public - the crash of Avro Lancaster TX264 in the early hours of 14th March 1951 on the 3310-feet Wester Ross mountain Beinn Eighe.
|Photograph by Ronnie Macdonald/Wikipedia CC-BY-SA 2.0|
At the time there were rumours of some of the crew surviving the actual crash but succumbing to the elements before they could be rescued. The public outcry over this delay (especially from the mountaineering community many of whom had offered their services and been refused) led directly to the establishment of the modern Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service which has served both military and civilian victims of accidents on the hills for 70 years until recently withdrawn to be replaced by a civilian contractor.
If you need to call mountain rescue
In the UK the dedicated emergency number is 999 which will connect you with all of the emergency services (ambulance, coastguard, fire service and, of course, the police who are responsible for co-ordinating mountain rescue) there is also another number you can use - 112. That number not only works in the UK but will also work all over Europe and further afield. In the UK it is also possible to register your mobile phone to send a text message to the emergency services instead of a voice call.
This ability could come in very handy if you are in an area where there is poor reception - a text message stands a better chance of getting through than a voice call. It is also a great way for someone who is speech or hearing impaired to communicate their needs to the emergency services. This short video will explain further and gives more information and handy tips you may not have thought of:
Author's note: This video is incorrect in one minor detail. It states that in the UK it is possible to call the emergency services from a mobile phone even if the phone does not have a SIM card installed. This is not the case. Since it is the SIM card which stores the necessary information to make an emergency call one must be present in the phone or it won't work.
Sources: Wikipedia, in-text links