Mountain rescue team training dogs to be winched from helicopters for rescues and searchers
A mountain rescue team put their skills – and nerve – to the test as they are winched from a helicopter during training – along with their canine companions.
The incredible photographs show Elly Whiteford and her dog Bracken being put through their paces as essential training for the Lake District Mountain Rescue Search Dogs.
The Mountain Rescue Teams, made up entirely of volunteers on call 24/7, do regular training exercises to prepare for being called out to potentially dangerous rescue situations – that can involve the mountain rescue members and their dogs being winched to a rescue scene via helicopter.
Most dogs might baulk at the loud noises of a chopper up close – but as these pictures show, Bracken appears perfectly relaxed as he makes the descent to earth – while wearing an adorable pair of ‘doggles’.
Bracken’s handler Elly, who works for the Environment Agency, said: “It takes a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication from all of our team to be able to run the way we do.
“All of our dog handlers are fully trained mountain rescue team members, and it can take two to three years to train a dog to the standard required, too.
“Although many of our searches will be on foot, it can sometimes be too difficult or dangerous to get to the area a person is missing in on foot or where time is critical for survival, for example, when there has been an avalanche or the casualty is suspected to be at risk.
“Our dogs need to be used to the helicopters and feel fine about being put in a harness and raised or lowered to earth with us.
“We do the training in stages, so they aren’t overwhelmed. Bracken is an amazing dog, and he takes it all in his stride.
“We have to wear goggles when close to the helicopters in the mountain environment as the blades create a strong downdraught and can often throw up debris at quite a speed, so our eyes need to be protected.
“Obviously, that counts for the dogs eyes too, so we put a pair of ‘doggles’ on them.
“The sound of the blades is really quite loud, and I usually try to cover his ears if it is particularly noisy.”
The Lake District Mountain Rescue teams currently have 11 qualified dogs available to assist in searches.
Volunteers have to undergo rigorous training in mountaineering, complex first aid, including administering drugs, as well as training the dogs to search.
They are called out to rescue walkers who have got lost or become injured in bad weather, as well as missing people, and even elderly dementia sufferers who have gone missing.
Elly added: “Bracken’s most recent find was an elderly diabetic man who was suffering from hypothermia.
“His training is a lot of hard work for us, but to him it’s a big game.
“The dogs learn by reward so we train them to find a human scent and then to bark for a toy.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but all worth it.”
The Lake District Mountain Rescue Search Dog Association is funded entirely by donations. You can donate at www.lakes-searchdogs.org.