The Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association Column with David Dennis

The team use the SARLoc system to locate people who get lost on the fells. Picture: Sara Spillett
The team use the SARLoc system to locate people who get lost on the fells. Picture: Sara Spillett

One of the questions we get asked is “Don’t you get annoyed at people who go out without a map and get lost”. The simple answer is no, they need our help as much as anyone.

Missing people tend to fit into two categories – walkers and fell runners, who have become geographically misplaced and second, the larger proportion, vulnerable people such as children or people suffering from dementia, depression or a mental illness.

Looking in the right place is paramount of course this depends on the information we have, for missing walkers we often have an idea where they were intending to go if we are called by friends or will have an idea where they are if they have called for help themselves.

We try to get a mobile number for someone in the group so that we can utilise one of the features of smart phones, GPS location.

We send a text to the phone with a link to the Mountain Rescue SARLoc system, this will get the phone to locate itself and then send that location back to SARLoc as well as displaying the grid reference on the phone.

SARLoc will then display the location on the mapping programmes we use as well as on SARCall so that the location is visible to all the emergency services on the system.

A recent callout involved fell runners who when the weather closed in lost the path.

Luckily we were able to SARLoc the runner’s phone and with their position known send just a small party to pick them up.

With the second group things are more difficult as we do not have any information on where the missing person is going and sometimes do not even know where they set off from.

In these cases we start with the Last Known Position (LKP), usually the home address or an abandoned car.

Luckily there are several publications that can assist us which are compiled from statistics based on where the various categories of missing people have been found in the past.

For each category there is guidance on how the person is likely to behave plus details of where people were found, how far they had travelled and the time from when they went missing to when they were located.

This information is aimed at search trained personnel and our Team Controllers aim to have completed either the Mountain Rescue Search Managers course or a course at the Centre for Search Research in Northumbria.

Typical behaviour for dementia is being goal driven and people can travel much further than even their close relatives would expect this also means they travel in a straight line, if on a road the can walk for miles but they will also cross a road if it does not lead where they are heading.

We have successfully used this researched data to locate missing vulnerable people and return them to their local community safe and sound.