Saturday 31st March 18:56
At 18:56 our duty Deputy Team Leader received notification to pick up a joint call-out with Holme Valley MRT (HVMRT). Details indicated that the call was to assist a party of young people who had been on a DofE exercise. Initial reports indicated there was a party of six and one of them had a lower leg injury, preventing them from walking. One person had stayed with the casualty (at Grid SE065035) and the other four were walking off the hill towards Crowden Youth Hostel. HVMRT were leading the call-out.
This kicked the team’s emergency call-out process into action. Within seconds, all on-call team members were notified of the call-out request via our specialized SMS messaging system. Upon receipt of the message, each team member responds immediately with details of their availability and expected time at the planned RV location, which in this case was the car park at Holme Moss summit. This inevitably means that whatever was planned for the evening is immediately abandoned, and team members grab their kit and head off to the RV, with family and loved ones not knowing how long we’re going to be out for. This obviously demands a great deal of patience and understanding.
At 19:11, we received an update that there were two people with the casualty and four walking off (7 in total).
Majority of the team respondents arrived at the RV point at Holme Moss summit around 19:40. The weather was very poor, snowing, low visibility and a bitterly cold wind. HVMRT had dispatched a stretcher party to the hill already with a team of 8 people. At this point, due to the weather it was pointless requesting a helicopter, visibility was around 10 meters and temperature well below freezing in a driving wind.
The WMRT team members made a party of 9, as a mix of HVMRT and WMRT, and took extra gasses (Oxygen and Entenox cyclinders) and a section kit. The plan was to follow the stretcher party to Black Hill then head south west down the Pennine Way. The idea being that the advance party could find, package and start the extraction and we would be the relay team providing extra bodies for the carry back to the road head.
On the walk in the weather improved significantly and it became obvious that this would be a protracted and difficult carry. Deep snow covering wet bog made walking extremely difficult. Due to the improving weather conditions the party leader requested air support and a call was put in to scramble the Coastguard S92 helicopter.
The second party arrived at the casualty site around 21:50 to find 3 casualties. One with lower leg injuries, none weight bearing. One with a groin strain, able to stand but not mobile and one with asthma. All three casualties were suffering from hypothermia despite being inside a tent. This situation now presented a significant challenge. There was only one stretcher at the casualty site, but two casualties in need of stretcher evacuation. The location was probably as far as could possibly be from any vehicle access up off-road tracks. Carrying a stretcher is not easy work, and it’s not fast, especially in freshly fallen snow and soft ground.
An ETA of 40 minutes was given for the S92 which was now en-route from Humberside airport and scheduled to arrive around 22:30. Visibility at the cas location was now good and improving. There was at least 150m vertical visibility and occasional glimpses of the moon. Given we had two casualties requiring a carry off, one stretcher and 17 MR team members, we made preparations to receive the helicopter as any other extraction was going to be extremely difficult.
By 22:40 it was obvious that we needed a plan B as the S92 couldn’t make it through the weather to get to our location. The clouds and mist surrounding Black Hill area made the helicopter approach extremely hazardous. The helicopter was very persistent and kept trying different approaches to the casualty location from all directions. After several hours of attempting to reach the casualty site, the S92 was running out of fuel and diverted to Manchester to refuel.
All three casualties were deteriorating and most team members on-site were also starting to show signs of hypothermia despite multiple layers of decent kit. At this point, the on-site Team Leader requested additional support from neighbouring teams and calls were made to Oldham and Glossop to provide man-power to assist the dual stretcher carry-off.
We had 17 MR and 3 Cas at site, two of which needed carrying. There were three options available:
1. Keep the whole party together and await additional kit and people – we didn’t have enough cover for 20 people.
2. Split the party – extract one by stretcher and one walking leaving one casualty with a small hill section.
3. Make a second stretcher from the kit available and extract as a group.
We decided to go with option 3, mainly to stop hypothermia creating another 17 casualties. A second stretcher was improvised from equipment that was available on the hill, so now in theory, it would be possible to carry off both immobilised casualties. One casualty was on a Bell Stretcher, and the other one in a thermal casualty bag with carry handles. The third casualty, who had been suffering with asthma was dispatched with 2 MR to walk back to Holme Moss, leaving 15 MR to carry two stretchers, all the team kit, 2 casualty rucksacks and a tent.
The hill party considered extracting to either Chew Clough (about 5k but difficult ground), via Black Hill then Issue Clough to the Landrover track (about 3k, slightly easier going to Black Hill and a difficult finish) or Black Hill then Holme Moss (about 4k but from Black Hill really difficult conditions back to the road). In the end it was decided to aim for Black Hill trig point and re-asses once there. The hill party split in to two teams and set off at approximately 23:00. Progress was very steady, and the routine was basically carry for a few meters, rest, repeat.
Additional resource from the neighbouring teams were dispatched with stretchers and spare kit from both Chew Clough and Issue Clough. At 01:14 additional resource started arriving making the situation much better. The bell stretcher was now being sledged quite successfully. As a rough guess we must have had 40+ MR from 4 teams on the hill at this point.
02:00 – weather much improved and S92 returning refuelled from Manchester makes a further attempt to RV with us. They manage to get visibility which allows them as far in as SE 065 055 which is a flat area of land just south of Dean Clough and the helicopter sets down there. At this point the casualty parties are just short of Black Hill trig. The TL considers trying to reach the S92 at Dean Clough, but the ground conditions to get there are are very difficult, especially taking into account the already exhausted team. TL makes a request to the S92 to see if they can try and make Black Hill trig as visibility is not too bad at the moment.
The helicopter crew agree to make a very careful attempt to get to the summit, knowing that this exposes them to significant risk. The Captain balances that risk with the deteriorating condition of the casualties and slowly starts a hover taxy maneuver up into the clouds, carefully tracking a ridge line towards the diffused lights of the team at the summit. At 02:33, after 30 minutes of slow and careful progress, the S92 lands on the flat ground adjacent to Black Hill summit. The two stretcher casualties along with 2 MR medics are quickly “hot loaded” onto the S92 which then immediately departs for Sheffield Northern general Hospital. This might sound quite straightforward, but it is quite difficult as the helicopter doesn’t shut down it’s engines and as a result there is a huge amount of downdraught from the rotors which makes it hard to stand up even on good ground. The S92 downdraught is significantly worse than the old Sea King as it is a more powerful aircraft and the rotors disc is smaller.
Having got the casualties to safety, the team then splits to return to their RV locations – one party heading to Issue Clough and one to Holme Moss. By 03:05 all teams are off the hill safely.
At this point, the job is not completed, as someone then has to travel to the hospital to recover the two medics and the team’s equipment that went with the helicopter. Finally, at 05:34 the medics returned from Sheffield to their vehicles at Holme Moss.
The map here shows the key locations from the call-out.