Contacting the Emergency Services
In planning your route, try to establish the location of mountain rescue posts and/or places from where you could summon help.
As the leader of the group, you will have to decide on the best course of action in the event of an accident:
Can the party evacuate the casualty?
Do you need to send for help using messengers?
Evacuation of an injured person with anything other than a simple injury is a highly skilled activity. It is exhausting to attempt even a very short evacuation with improvised equipment. Worse - it is possibly dangerous for the casualty.
Judgment must be applied to evaluate the risk of this approach compared with the risks of leaving the casualty on the mountain.
If the best option is to send messengers, then the composition of this party needs very careful consideration. If the group is relatively inexperienced, it may be that the best person to go for help is the leader. Inexperienced walkers may be safer left on the mountain with strict instructions not to move.
In a party of two it is often difficult to judge which is the best course of action. While it is usually safest for the uninjured person to administer first-aid and provide morale support whilst attempting to attract the attention of other walkers/climbers this is not practical in very remote areas.
Whoever goes for help should take a written note with the following information:
- Precise location of accident including a 6 figure grid reference - for more details see Hill Skills > Navigation > Giving a Grid Reference
- A description of the location
- A description of the accident and time it occurred.
- Name of casualty and next of kin.
- Description of injuries. Stick to the facts.
- Outline of plan of action including names of other party members.
- Information about terrain and best approach route.
Messengers should try to take note of terrain on the way down in case they have to lead back a rescue team. As soon as possible, contact the police who co-ordinate all land based rescue services in the UK and have the authority to mobilise all the services. You may need to stay close to the 'phone to be interviewed by the leader of the mountain rescue team.
If the best option is to summon help from the mountain, then you will need to attract the attention of other walkers/climbers in the area. There is an internationally recognised system of codes - audible and visual.
Perhaps the two most important ones are:
- Red Flare or
- 6 whistle blasts in quick succession - repeated after a 1 minute interval or
- SOS = 3 short blasts, 3 long blasts, 3 short blasts - repeated after 1 minute or
- 6 flashes from a torch in quick succession - repeated after 1 minute interval or
- 3 short, 3 long, 3 short flashes - repeated after 1 minute
Message Understood signal is:
- White flare or
- 3 whistle blasts in quick succession - repeated after a 1 minute or
- 3 flashes from a torch in quick succession - repeated after 1 minute.
It goes without saying that you MUST ALWAYS have either a torch or whistle with you (and preferably both).
For more information about items you should never venture into the mountains without - see Hill Skills > What to Take > Essential Items
You may feel it is just a simple matter of contacting the Emergency Services using a mobile telephone. While it seems prudent to take a fully charged mobile telephone onto the mountains, it should be remembered that the chances of getting a clear signal are mixed at best. This method cannot be safely relied upon. If you can get through however, your first point of contact should always be the Police - as stated earlier.