UK & World News
Glencoe: The Mountain Rescue Frontline
Sky News has been given special access to the work of one of Scotland's busiest mountain rescue teams.
With a Sky News camera, the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team filmed emergency call-outs to rescue one fallen climber and to recover the body of another.
Since New Year, 12 people have died on Scotland's mountains. The Glencoe team were involved in the incident that saw an avalanche claim the lives of five people on the Bidean Nam Bian mountain.
The successful rescue which they filmed took place on February 20, 2,500ft up the slopes of Coire Ba in Kinlochleven. A Royal Marines special forces unit had been training in the area and one member of the party had fallen 300ft.
Pictures show the team from muster point to rescue.
A number of factors work in their favour. The fact the casualty is military meant that his colleagues, with their knowledge and equipment, were easily able to provide an exact location using GPS.
The team's quad bike transports the heavier rescue gear part of the way up the mountain along with medical equipment. The medical kit they carry with them would do justice to a small ambulance.
John Grieve, leader of Glencoe Mountain Rescue, told Sky News: "A lot of the stuff we're taking up the hill you would find in an ambulance ... heart-start machines, oxygen, painkiller drugs.
"Also, we take a vacuum mat to act as a whole-body splint."
The team has 30 members, all of whom get a radio call, instigated by the police, when an emergency is signalled.
The call-outs vary in urgency from a Code 1 to a Code 3. A Code 1 signifies imminent danger to life, or an incident involving children, and requires all members to attend.
The rescue of the Marine was classed as a Code 2 and around a dozen team members turned out.
Between them, the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team has several hundred years of experience climbing around the world. They know the vast Argyllshire wilderness around their Glencoe Village base like the back of their hand.
Mr Grieve says: "Collectively, we have such experience that when we're out on a climb, a team member will be talking about individual pieces of rock that they know or where the casualty might have fallen from."
The fact this rescue was at night was an advantage as the rescuers were guided towards the shining torches of the casualty's group.
Mr Grieve says: "It's a great advantage because we can get a really good location for the casualty, with them shining a torch. It helps the helicopter locate him as well."
When the rescuers reached the casualty, they loaded him onto the stretcher in readiness for the RAF Helicopter that had been summoned.
On a steep slope 2,500ft up, the stretcher is bound to the rocky landscape with ropes to prevent it sliding down the mountain.
A member of the team lights a flare to guide in the RAF Sea King helicopter. In the event, the pilot asks that the casualty be taken down the slope to a surface that's more 'winch-friendly', so the stretcher is slid down across the heather.
When the helicopter descends, members of the rescue team cling onto the mountainside as they are buffeted by the downdraught.
As dramatic as it looked, it was a textbook rescue for the Glencoe team and the military casualty was successfully winched aboard the helicopter and flown to hospital.
An altogether more sombre routine was played out a week later on a different peak, Bidean Nam Bian, which had claimed the lives of the avalanche victims in January.
This time a 39-year-old climber had fallen to his death and the Glencoe rescuers had to retrieve his body.
Their pictures show two members of the team climbing 1,00ft down a near-vertical drop to shift the body into an accessible area where a Royal Navy helicopter can winch it aboard.
Even in tragedy there is, invariably, gratitude for the rescuers from the people they volunteer to help.
Mr Grieve says: "Most people are grateful, families are grateful.
"I've got people of people who have been killed in Glencoe who still phone me up occasionally, 15 years later, just because they want to talk ... you've got to know them through tragic circumstances."
Debate regarding access to the mountains has re-ignited in the wake of this year's dozen deaths. The leader of the Glencoe team emphatically rejects any suggestion that it should be restricted.
"From my own personal view, as someone who has gone into the hills for years and years is that it's one of our last great wildernesses.
"It's a wonderful part of Scotland and everyone should be allowed to wander it at their own level."
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