Friday, 6 December 2013

Search And No Need For Rescue

Today I went to stretch my legs up in Arrochar. I went up to Beinn Narnain, more on that in a later post. The twist to what would have been a fairly normal hike to a regular haunt came on the route down. 

The path which leads off both the Cobbler and Narnain has some great views and as I walked down it today a search and rescue helicopter came in to view. I started to take the obligatory photos.

 It hovered over the Cobbler then moved over to Narnain. It hovered on the opposite side of the feature then I noticed on the near side I noticed orange smoke starting to to plume. As the smoke dispersed the helicopter moved on to the near side of where I watched and hovered again. I expected to to see a winch drop but nothing, it then follow off in to the distance in the direction of Beinn Ime and vanished. The picture below is a poor one taken from a zoomed in phone but it shows the helicopter moving towards the smoke.
 At this point I was convinced they had missed a distress signal, I know this would be difficult but I wasn't happy with leaving without confirming no one was left on the mountain. I called the emergency services with a very minimal signal, I explained what I had seen and my concerns. I asked if there was a call out or if they were training but the lady couldn't confirm either. She said she would call me if they needed more information. I waited for 10 minutes for a call, with no call I tried calling back but no signal I couldn't even get a 999 call out. I decided to head off piste direct to the location of the smoke. I had to be sure no one was injured on the hill. 

It took me over an hour to get in to the crag where I headed, the ground on route wasn't perfect. As I got closer I called out to see if there was anyone injured but there was no response. I got to a stage where I couldn't get gain any more height on the route I had taken. There was no sign of anyone and I hadn't found any trace of the orange smoke. I have had experience with it in the past and it leaves a fairly significant scar on the ground when it plumes. I made the decision to go back down to try and get a signal, as I couldn't ascend safely due to terrain and failing light. Frustrated, I made my way back down to intersect with the main path as far down as I could. 

All the way down I questioned whether I had made the right decision to go down: was I leaving someone on the hill in the cold injured and unconscious? Eventually, further down the footpath I got a signal 2 hours after my first call to the emergency services. After giving my details and explaining the situation, again, once I had been put on hold for a few minutes the female operator was able to tell me it was a training exercise and the smoke was used for wind direction. She said "I don't know if that will make you feel better or worse?" I explained that it made me feel better as now I know there is no one left hurt on the hill. 

You might read this and think "what an idiot!" "they would have seen an injured person, and they wouldn't have flown off!" Normally I'd agree but I had doubt, the switchboard weren't able to confirm that it was training or if it was a live call. I hadn't had a message from them to confirm either way since, I know they didn't know I would head up there but I couldn't just leave without knowing. Maybe I did go a bit far with it but without being told otherwise I'd do the same again. My main issue is, why weren't the switchboard aware of the status of the SAR helicopter? Who should we contact if we do need to know what is happening? I don't want to waste any of the emergency services time but what if I look the other way and it has grave repercussions? 

Thankfully it didn't and, as far as I'm aware, everyone's home safe and sound. It made an interesting end to a nice day out.