Busy Cairngorms Day

Busy Cairngorms Day

A busy day for the winchman of RAF Lossimouth's Search & Rescue Flight

Busy Cairngorms Day 

Cairngorms Rescues

A story of a day rescuing people, by Sgt Chris 'Bradders' Bradshaw

We were flying a winter mountain training sortie in the Cairngorms as we do regularly in almost all weathers from RAF Lossiemouth. The weather was ok, light winds and the summit plateau was in and out of cloud. We were tasked by the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team to search the plateau for a family of 5 who had got a bit out of their depth and become scared to carry on. We were given a rough position and we started the search. The position given was somewhere below the Northern part of Cairngorm Summit. We searched for a while as near to the position as we could, hampered by low cloud as we did so. We got a call to say one of the local MRT members had found the party all safe and well near the top of the goat track. We flew over there and landed on the plateau to pick them up. They were dressed well but not equipped for winter conditions and had no ice axes, crampons and other such equipment. They were visibly shaken and pleased to see us. They had done the right thing and called for help before someone got hurt.

The radio went again and we were tasked to a faller at Shelter Stone Crags above Loch Avon. We had no time to divert to drop the family off first,  so they came with us.

We arrived at the scene and could see three climbers on a small ledge approx. 3-400 above the valley floor all clearly roped up and belayed on. I prepared my equipment including configuring my ‘long lead’ to clip into the belay before I came off the aircraft hook, to stay safe at all times. I was winched out and we gingerly made our way over to the position. It was tricky to get a clear overhead so the winch operator could still see me and keep the wire clear of obstructions so we prepared a hi-line and I threw it to one of the climbers as we offset and then he helped to pull me towards the site. I arrived safely, clipped into the belay once I had established it was secure. Had it not been then I would have 2 choices, one would be to get an army of MRT and get them to rig for a very dangerous and protracted lower or to scoop and run once I quickly established how badly injured the casualty was.

Thankfully the belay was good and I came off the aircraft hook and had a chat with the guys on scene. The climber had fallen whilst leading a climb and ended up unconscious and upside down in his harness. His son was belaying and was uninjured. The third guy there was an experienced climber and mountaineer who had climbed to the faller and got him safely to the ledge we were on. As he did this, his companion had abseiled down and walked out to raise the alarm. A truly herculean effort by both guys. The faller was now conscious and sitting up with bad cuts and bruises to his face and large gash in lip that was very open and sore looking. He wasn’t too responsive but responsive enough that it wasn’t desperately urgent to go immediately.

As SAR crews we want to give the gold standard of patient care and it is often compromised by the situation we find the casualties in. We have to consider the location, the weather, is it getting dark, is the cloud base lowering and are we running out of options for flying out of the area safely. How cold is the casualty, how badly injured are they and do we have the luxury of being able to package them properly or do we need to work quickly to extract them before we are all stuck or before the casualty deteriorates significantly. In this case the restriction was the location. It was a ledge approx. 4-5ft wide that sloped off to a 400ft drop to the valley floor. It already had 4 of us on it and absolutely no room for a stretcher. I carried out a quick primary survey to establish what injuries the faller had and to rule out anything more serious like internal haemorrhage, broken pelvis, C-spine fractures etc. Thankfully he was relatively ok. I briefed his son on being winched and then we set about placing a cervical collar around the fallers’ neck as a precaution due to the nature of the fall. We planned to place him in the vacuum mattress on the aircraft as soon as we had him onboard to immobilise his spine properly. We have to do the same with fast jet ejectees when we winch them out of the sea. It is one of the compromises we have to make sometimes and it is always very carefully considered. While we were doing this, the aircraft had flown the family down to the Cairngorm MRT base and got some fuel from Glenmore Lodge refuel site.

When they arrived back we winched the fallers son onto the aircraft and then I briefed the other climber on using the hi-line to stabilise us as we winched up. I also asked him if he wanted us to come back for him and fly him back to his car in the Cairngorm ski centre car park and he was happy that he wanted to abseil down, recover his equipment and walk out. It was getting dark and I double-checked that he knew what he was doing, that he had a map, compass and headtorch and that he knew it was going to take him a while to do this. He was still quite happy and I could tell he knew exactly what he was doing.

We winched up to the aircraft and immobilised the casualty properly once we were onboard and flew him to Inverness hospital.

So we had a very inexperienced family of walkers caught out in the wrong environment for them. A father and son climbing who took a fall after his axe came out at the wrong moment and a very competent good Samaritan mountaineer who played a huge part in helping to effect the rescue of this man. It meant the faller was recovered safely and it also meant we didn’t have to recover someone hanging in their harness against a rock face unconscious, we can do that but some things are a little too exciting!

About Sgt Bradshaw

Sgt Chris Bradshaw began his military career with 5 years service in the Royal Marines, joining in 1993. During this time he completed 3 winters in Norway, a tour in Bosnia and Jungle warfare training in Brunei. As well as being paid to jump out of an almost perfectly serviceable Hercules on a number of occasions.

In 1998 he left to pursue a career in IT that went well but was terminally boring and rather than re-join the military he joined the RAF as an Air Electronics Operator in Sept 2000. After graduating as an AEOp he held on 203 Sqn for a year before making a hash of the Search and Rescue Training Unit (SARTU) long course in 2003. After this he went kicking and screaming to RAF Kinloss and 120 Sqn to fly the Nimrod MR2 where he had an all-inclusive desert holiday on Op Telic in Iraq in 2004.

As the maritime world got smaller he was offered a rotary crossover and spent 2006 at RAF Shawbury becoming proper aircrew. On graduation he was once again selected for Search and Rescue duties. After making a marginally smaller hash of the SARTU long course he completed the Sea King OCU as a winchman and was posted to D Flight 202 Sqn at RAF Lossiemouth in Novemebr 2007 completing almost 2 tours there and becoming paramedic qualified in 2009. He was posted to A flight 202 Sqn RAF Boulmer as the winchman trainer in October 2012. He completed a 3-month tour as MERT Paramedic on Op Herrick 14 Afghanistan from March to July 2011.

All his spare time is spent travelling to see his 2 little girls as much as he can. He likes keeping fit, reading (winchmen can read!) and saying the word ‘hoofing’.