Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service


Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service

The Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service (RAFMRS) provides land rescue over the mountain areas of the United Kingdom. Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue teams (MRTs) were first organised during World War II to rescue aircrew from the large number of aircraft crashes then occurring on high ground.>cite book |last= Card |first= Frank |coauthors= |title= Whensoever: Fifty Years of the Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service |publisher= The Earnest Press |year= 1993 |month= |isbn= ] The practice at the time was to organise ad-hoc rescue parties from station medical sections and other ground personnel. Experience demonstrated that this could be dangerous. While the mountains of the United Kingdom are not very tall, they contain much formerly glaciated terrain with steep cliffs, talus slopes, high peaks and cirque basins, and generally experience a sub-Arctic climate at relatively low altitudes. Snow and high winds, sometimes in excess of convert|100|mph|km/h|0|abbr=on, are posssible any month of the year. Rescue operations in these conditions require personnel with specialized mountaineering training and equipment.

Foundation

An RAF medical officer, Flight Lieutenant George Graham, is credited with creating the first organized team at RAF Llandwrog in North Wales in 1943. Graham's team rescued dozens of allied airmen from Snowdonia before Graham was posted to Burma, where he took part in an early pararescue operation (strikingly similar to one generally credited as the beginning of United States Air Force Pararescue), saving the life of a Royal Canadian Air Force navigator, Flying Officer W Prosser.cite book |last= Card |first= Frank |coauthors= |title= Whensoever: Fifty Years of the Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service |publisher= The Earnest Press |year= 1993 |month= |isbn= ]

Shortly after the war the fledgling service was reorganized and retrained along professional grounds through an influx of trained mountaineers, particularly Sergeant J R Lees, whose involvement with the service is recounted by author and mountain guide Gwen Moffat in her 1964 book about the early days of the service. [cite book |last= Moffat |first= Gwen |coauthors= |title= Two Star Red |publisher= Hodder & Stoughton |year= 1963 |month= |isbn= ] Other notable early team leaders include Austrian guide Hans Pick, Colin Pibworth, and John Hinde.cite book |last= Card |first= Frank |coauthors= |title= Whensoever: Fifty Years of the Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service |publisher= The Earnest Press |year= 1993 |month= |isbn= ]

Early history

A mountain rescue operation is known as a "call-out." Particularly noteworthy call-outs include the extended search for the remains of the crew of Avro Lancaster TX 264 of No. 120 Squadron RAF, which crashed into Scotland's convert|1010|m|ft|0 Beinn Eighe on 1951-03-14. Recovering all the remains took several months, and led to public criticism of the fledgling service from mountaineering groups, which helped prod the RAF to provide specialized personnel, better training, and proper equipment. Less than a year later, an Aer Lingus Douglas Dakota crashed into a mountain near Porthmadog in Snowdonia with 23 people on board, and RAFMRS personnel recovered the remains.

Over the 1950s, the service became more professional and better coordinated with civilian authorities. Many noteworthy civilian volunteer mountain rescue teams in the UK began as RAFMRS "sub-units." Two air crashes high in the mountains of Turkey during the 1950s provided call-outs for the first of several overseas teams of the RAFMRS, based at RAF Nicosia in Cyprus. Both crashes had a sense of Cold War espionage, involving secret nuclear papers and equipment. To this day the service's historians feel they lack all the details. Other overseas teams were based in Aden, Yemen, Dubai, Oman and Hong Kong.cite book |last= Card |first= Frank |coauthors= |title= Whensoever: Fifty Years of the Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service |publisher= The Earnest Press |year= 1993 |month= |isbn= ] The middle eastern teams were characterized as "desert rescue."

The RAF allowed women team members for the first time in 1988. Since their formation the teams have rescued thousands of civilian walkers and climbers and responded to hundreds of aircraft crashes. Perhaps the most famous call-out of all was for the crash of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. This terrorist incident resulted in the scattering of human remains over a wide swath of southern Scotland. The call-out involved four of the six teams then in existence and stretched the personnel involved to the limits.cite book |last= Card |first= Frank |coauthors= |title= Whensoever: Fifty Years of the Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service |publisher= The Earnest Press |year= 1993 |month= |isbn= ]

Training

All RAF MRT members are volunteers. For reasons lost to history, RAFMRS team members are known as "M.R. troops" or just "troops." Traditionally, team membership is reserved for enlisted men and women; although officers may serve as officers i/c (in charge), this is not at all the same thing as being the team leader. That position is reserved for a senior NCO, generally a grizzled veteran. For some, service on a team is a primary duty. For others, it is a part-time activity for which they are granted relief from other normal secondary duties, such as guard duty.

Most training is done "on the hill", the term for mountaineering training days. Only a minority pass the three-week trial period required to join. Once accepted, new troops are considered "novices." A "badge test" after the first year is the mark of a trained troop, and permits the wearing of the mountain rescue badge on dress uniform. Walking, mountain navigation, high-angle rescue techniques, rock climbing, and winter mountaineering are the primary training activities, which are carried out in all weathers. A minority of troops practise fell running, a traditional country sport in northern England, and excellent training.

A regular troop can expect to spend upwards of a hundred days a year on the hill, which makes the most seasoned RAFMRS personnel some of the fittest mountaineers in the world. Many Himalayan expeditions have been mounted, or troops and ex-troops have participated in other organizations' expeditions. In 1970, ex-troop Ian Clough died when a serac collapsed on him while descending Annapurna on an expedition with Chris Bonnington. Other sites for expeditions have included Alaska's Denali, Mt. Everest, and Antarctica, where troops have volunteered for British Antarctic Survey duties.

Each year for several decades, the service has run separate summer and winter mountaineering courses. The focus is on training lead climbers. USAF pararescue personnel from American air bases in England generally attend. A special course is held when needed every few years to train team leaders. [cite book |last= |first= |coauthors= |title= Training Handbook for RAF Mountain Rescue Teams |publisher= Ministry of Defence (UK)|year= |month= |isbn= ]

Current organization and deployment

After a recent consolidation, the RAFMRS today comprises four teams, based at RAF Valley in North Wales, RAF Leuchars and RAF Kinloss in Scotland, and RAF Leeming in England. There is now a central headquarters administration, previously lacking, associated with the MRT at RAF Valley. Helicopter operations, frequently used in mountain rescue, are conducted in cooperation with No. 202 Squadron RAF and No. 22 Squadron RAF. These two squadrons, with the four remaining MRTs and headquarters, and the Rescue Coordination Centre at RAF Kinloss, comprise RAF Search and Rescue.

Awards and decorations

The following decorations have been awarded to past and serving members of the RAFMRS up to 1993:cite book |last= Card |first= Frank |coauthors= |title= Whensoever: Fifty Years of the Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service |publisher= The Earnest Press |year= 1993 |month= |isbn= ]

George Medal:
* Flt Sgt J R Lees, for Amphitheatre Buttress rescue, 1958

Member of the British Empire:
* Flt Lt G Graham, for services to mountain rescue, 1943
* Flt Lt D Crichton, for services to mountain rescue, 1946
* Flt Lt R Robertson, for Mt Suphan (Turkey) call-out, 1959
* Sqn Ldr J Sims, for services to mountain rescue, 1967
* Sqn Ldr G Blackburn, for services to mountain rescue, 1984
* Sqn Ldr W Gault, for Lockerbie Air Disaster, 1989

British Empire Medal:
* Cpl G McTigue, for services to mountain rescue, 1943
* SAC M Brown, for Beinn Eighe call-out, 1952
* Sgt J Mooring, for services to mountain rescue, 1958
* Flt Sgt H Appleby, for Mt Suphan (Turkey) call-out, 1959
* Sgt J Emmerson, for Mt Suphan (Turkey) call-out, 1959
* SAC G Murphy, for Mt Suphan (Turkey) call-out, 1959
* Sgt J Steed, for services to mountain rescue, 1960
* Flt Sgt JR Lees, for services to mountain rescue, 1962
* Flt Sgt W Brankin, for services to mountain rescue, 1963
* Sgt G Patterson, for Wadi Mukeiras call-out, 1959
* Chf Tech J Hinde, for services to mountain rescue, 1964
* Sgt P McGowan, for services to mountain rescue, 1971
* Cpl C Pibworth, for services to mountain rescue and desert rescue, 1972
* Flt Sgt J Tunnah, for services to mountain rescue, 1972
* Flt Sgt G Bruce, for services to mountain rescue and Elephant Island Expedition, 1973
* Flt Sgt H Oldham, for services to mountain rescue, 1976
* Flt Sgt R Sefton, for services to mountain rescue, 1977
* Flt Sgt J Baines, for services to mountain rescue, 1979
* Chf Tech J Craig, for services to mountain rescue, 1979
* Flt Sgt A Haveron, for services to mountain rescue, 1984
* Flt Sgt D Shanks, for services to mountain rescue, 1986
* Flt Sgt K Taylor, for services to mountain rescue, 1987
* Flt Sgt P Weatherill, for services to mountain rescue, 1987
* Flt Sgt D Whalley, for services to mountain rescue, 1992
* Flt Sgt P Kirkpatrick, for services to mountain rescue, 1993

Queen's Commendation for Bravery:
* SAC G Hercod, for Mt Suphan (Turkey) call-out, 1959
* Flt Sgt G Bruce, call out for missing school party on Cairngorms, 1971
* Sgt W Batson, for Lockerbie Air Disaster, 1989
* Sgt P Winn, for Lockerbie Air Disaster, 1989
* Flt Sgt D Whalley, for Lockerbie Air Disaster, 1989

References

Flt Sgt DAVID Whalley was awarded an MBE in 2002

Further reading

* cite book
last = Earl
first = David W
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = All In a Day's Work: RAF Mountain Rescue in Snowdonia, 1944-46
url =
format =
edition =
series =
year = 1999
publisher = Gwasg Carreg Gwalch
isbn = 978-0863815546

* cite book
last = Doylerush
first = Edward
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Legend of Llandwrog: The Story of an Airfield and the Birth of the RAF Mountain Rescue Service
url =
format =
edition =
series =
year = 1994
publisher = Midland Publishing
isbn = 978-0904597882

* cite book
last = MacInnes
first = Hamish
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Call-out: Mountain Rescue
url =
format =
edition =
series =
year = 1979
publisher = Hodder & Stoughton
isbn = 978-0140042986

* cite book
last = Thomson
first = Ian
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Black Cloud: Scottish Mountain Misadventures 1928-1966
url =
format =
edition =
series =
year = 1993
publisher = Penguin
isbn = 978-0948153204

* cite book
last = Beaver
first = Paul
authorlink =
coauthors = Berriff, Paul
title = Rescue: True-life Drama of Royal Air Force Search and Rescue
url =
format =
edition =
series =
year = 1990
publisher = Patrick Stephens Ltd
isbn = 978-1852602918


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