Mountain rescue volunteers give their spare time to save lives in the most remote parts of East Lancashire.
Over the past two weeks members have been helping in the search for missing building society worker Trevor Whitehead. Reporter Jon Robinson joined the team as they set about a night-time hunt
IT’S like ‘finding a needle in a haystack — but first we have to find the haystack’.
That’s how operational trainee Gary Marsden described being part of the Rossendale and Pendle Mountain Rescue Team.
During their latest mission, 20 volunteers have been searching for Trevor Whitehead, 51, who has been missing since Wednesday, April 9.
So far the team has been called out to five different search locations looking for Mr Whitehead.
The Skipton Building Society worker, based at the Barnoldswick branch, was reported missing after failing to turn up to work for three days.
In the most recent operation, the group, together with search and rescue dog Finn, split up and looked in the wooded areas in and around the Coppice in Accrington after receiving intelligence from Lancashire Police.
Tree surgeon Gary, 43, from Lower Darwen, said the group always remained optimistic that they could make the difference in getting someone home safe and well.
He said: “The chances of finding someone, especially alive, after more than two weeks are slim.
“We are currently searching an area 2.5km out from his house and all we have been told is that he took a ground sheet with him and his pet terrapin.
“We use line searches to make sure we cover as much ground as possible, with each team member 15ft apart from each other”.”
Despite the constant showers and fading light, the volunteers, who had all done a full day’s work, completed their search but to no avail.
The operation involved negotiating tricky and sometimes slippery terrain to get the job done, with team member Chris Boyles almost becoming drenched in the river after taking the most treacherous route, while his team mates watched from a nearby bridge.
Rawtenstall resident Chris, 51, a paramedic in Manchester, said: “I joined the team in 2000 and never looked back.
“There are some days when it’s harder to motivate yourself to go out but it’s a vital service that we provide.
“The camaraderie in the team is what makes it enjoyable and everyone shares the same interests.
“The operations are not always a success because whoever you are trying to find might not be there in the first place.
“We aren’t the obvious choice for people when they donate to charity because we are not visible to the vast majority.
”But if we weren’t here then who would take care of the 50-plus call-outs we get every year?”
Back at base, deputy team leader and chairman Graham Dalley, who was in charge of the operation, marshalled the teams over radio.
The Ramsbottom-based self-employed electrician, 57, said: “Donations are a bit down on what we would like at this time of year.
“It costs almost £30,000 to run the team every year, and that’s without spending anything on upgrading equipment or vehicles.
“We would not survive without donations, and our volunteers, but the work that (team member) Mark Wakeman does to attract funding is exceptional.”
After completing a recent high of 132 call-outs in 2010, the team handled 60 operations in 2013, clocking up 1,456 volunteer hours.
The team, set up in 1963, has just launched a new patron scheme to raise more funds and more information is available at: www.rpmrt.org.uk