Tuesday 13 August 2019

To the rescue!

My pals Roy and Les were rescued from a flooded cave 27 years ago. Because he was a TV producer be made a dark wet docudrama about the experience: No Picnic at Sleet's Gill. It was less dramatic than last year's Thai cave rescue because it involved two middle-aged codgers. A couple of weeks ago I had the rare opportunity to flick through a hard-copy of the Irish Times and read an article about the volunteer mountain rescue service. One of the points made was that, in Ireland, all that expertise, devotion to duty, endurance and courage is held by volunteers. Seemingly The Lads [M & F!] don't even get their petrol money back and they've been giving their time for at least the last 50 years.

There are several such groups, like KMRT Kerry Mountain Rescue Team, ready for action wherever terrain is wild enough that people will have accidents or heart-attacks or just plain exhaustion having been benighted by the weather. I guess of you break a hip in Tesco, it would be a different class of chaps in hi-viz vests who bundle you into an ambulance for triage in A&E. One of the old hands was shaking his head with "wot were we like?" wonder at the mad things they did back in the day: no hard-hats, crappy ropes, wellington boots.

In the old days, MRTs would get a message when somebody failed to return home. That was usually after dark. If the Lost One was smart, like Roy & Les, then s/he would have left a message about their planned itinerary. The MRT would muster their best available team and start quartering their best guess for location. Even if it wasn't full dark, accidents were more likely if the weather was atrocious and visibility piss-poor.

You might think that modern tech - smart-phones, GPS, Gortex - would help. For example, On 2012 Russ Hore invented an App called SARLOC [search & rescue locator]. This extracts the GPS coordinates from  the Lost Phone and relays this key information to the relevant MRT. Begob but that works a treat IF the phone has coverage - so great in Tesco; no so good in Gleann Dorcha and other remote locations. KMRT estimates that SARLOC helps only about 50% of the time.

And Drones? They must be handy?! Not really, great for swoopy video on windless sunny days, useless if the wind gets up or the fog comes down; and the battery life is real short. But when you get close infra-red sensors can pick up a Live One. Drones' best use is to get food, medicine and a hot drink across inhospitable terrain. As of now, old style foot-slog is still very much needed in the field.

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