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Emergencies in the Mountains

If you spend any time walking or climbing in the mountains it's vital you know how to deal with an emergency. Unfortunately accidents can happen to the best of us, often a simple slip can have pretty serious consequences.

Llanberis Mountain Rescue and HM Coastguard in action on a rescue on Crib Goch

So what should you do??

If you or a companion are injured in the mountains try to stay calm and remember the priorities of first aid:

Ensure you are safe - your personal safety comes first. Check for potential hazards.

  1. Assess the situation - what has happened? Hazards? What am I going to do?

  2. Assess the casualty -

  • Danger

  • Response - are they awake/alert.

  • Airway - ensure it is open and clear.

  • Breathing - if the casualty is not breathing you need to call for help right away (see below). Carry out CPR - check out this website and App Lifesaver

  • Circulation - check for bleeding and stop blood loss.

Doing a 2 day outdoor first aid course would be a very good idea if you are going to spend time in the mountains.

3. If you need to call for help

  • Dial 999 and ask for Police then Mountain Rescue.

The operator will take some details of the incident, they will want to know:

  • The nature of the incident - your assessment of the casualties condition. Their personal details. If they are unconscious or have lost consciousness at any time make sure you let them know.

  • Your location (see below) and any potential hazards close by.

  • Number in the group.

  • Your phone number - the MRT will want to speak to you direct so ensure it has enough charge. Check charge levels of other phones in the group if necessary.

This information will be passed on to the relevant Mountain Rescue Team. They will call you back so don't move away from where your phone works.

4. You now need to sit tight and wait. Depending on where you are this will be at least an hour, potentially much more. It is vital you, the casualty and the rest of the group can remain warm - put on extra clothing. A group shelter and a Blizzard Survival jacket or bag are both excellent pieces of equipment for this. The MRT may call you back while you are waiting to give you updates or instructions. Stay where you are - unless it becomes unsafe, stay put. If you do have to move let the MRT know.

5. If a helicopter arrives they will most likely do a few flypasts to assess the situation - make yourself known to them by raising your hands. Get anyone not needed to care for the casualty to move well away, ensure any loose items are secured and secure yourself and the casualty as best you can - sit down. The downdraft from the helicopter above could blow you over or worse and blow unsecured equipment away. If you have climbing helmets put them on.

As the winch man/woman approaches do not be tempted to reach out for him or touch the cable - apart from him possibly pulling you off you'll get an electric shock from the aircraft's static electricity!

You'll now be in his / her capable hands - do as they ask and assist where you can. Your injured friend will now hopefully be whisked away to hospital. Depending on injury / hospital circumstances this may be a long way away. Good idea to make sure they don't leave with the car keys! The MRT will let you know where they have gone.

6. Getting a helicopter to rescue you is not guaranteed - bad weather or if the aircraft is unavailable (due to other operations) then you will be waiting for the MRT to arrive. This will obviously take a bit longer. Again, they will try to keep you updated. If the weather is poor and visibility is reduced blowing a whistle will help the MRT find you. Keep blowing it.

What if I am lost or don't know my location?

1. Try and relocate yourself - work back from your last known point, think about features you have passed since your last known point, look for any obvious features, how long have you been moving since your last point. If you know how to work out the aspect (which direction it faces) of the slope you are on that will be a big clue.

2. If you cannot work out where you are and have phone signal it is sometimes possible for the MRT to work it out using SARLOC - a software program that interacts with your phone. It requires you to have internet signal and have the phone location devices switched on. The MRT send you a text and you click on a link - that is it.

3. If this doesn't work then you will have to give the MRT as much detail as you can about your location - last known point, time from there, any obvious features you can see etc. They will then have to search for you based on that information - good time to be blowing whistles again.

4. There are a number of mobile phone apps that will let you know your location. OS Locate is a good example - it does not require an internet signal either, just the GPS location to be switched on.

What if i have no phone signal?

1. Although your phone might say no service dial 999 anyway - emergency calls can use other networks. If this still doesn't work you will have to move to either get a signal or get help. Make sure the casualty is safe and make as comfortable as possible, it's going to be difficult to leave them but getting help is your only real solution. Think about where you last had a phone signal and if possible go back. Quite often moving higher up the mountain will improve the signal. If you manage to make the 999 call stay there until the MRT call you back. They will advise you what to do next.

You can also register your phone to text the emergency services - follow this link for details. Useful if the signal is weak or it's too windy to hear properly. Emergency SMS

Accidents are fortunately pretty rare - most people enjoy their day in the mountains without incident. They do happen though and it pays to be prepared - carry sufficient equipment, head torches, know how to read a map and navigate. All these skills are covered on my 2 day Mountain Skills courses, learn from an experienced professional Association of Mountaineering Instructors instructor.

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