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Last Updated: Monday, 5 December 2005, 13:36 GMT
Rocky rescue goes without a hitch
Carl Yapp
By Carl Yapp
BBC Wales news website

Carl Yapp strapped in a stretcher

I had plunged 30ft off a ledge in the remote Brecon Beacons and landed on rocks below, injuring my spine.

Cold, in severe pain and just feet from a waterfall at the mouth of a gorge, I waited, semi-conscious, for rescuers.

Thankfully, it was just a training exercise and I was playing a casualty, but the scenario was typical of the sort of challenge faced by mountain rescue teams.

Brecon Mountain Rescue (BMR) and Central Beacons Mountain Rescue joined forces with South Wales Police divers, search and rescue dog teams, Wales Ambulance Service and the RAF - who were providing a helicopter to fly "victims" to safety.

It was part of a safety campaign launched by the Waterfalls Safety Advisory Group and BMR to warn walkers to take extra care around water.

A soldier drowned during a training exercise in a cave at Porth-yr-Ogof near Ystradfellte in 2002 and rescue experts hoped publicity would help avoid further tragedies.

As one of the exercise's casualties on Sunday, I found myself in Pontneddfechan, near Glyneath, in a remote, water-filled gorge.

RAF Sea King Rescue helicopter's crew members being winched down
An unscheduled swim seemed likely and I hadn't even brought along my trunks

Getting to the accident site was testing. I was forced to wade through a fast-flowing 15ft wide stream, scramble over wet, slippery rocks and up a rocky slope.

But how was I going to get down on a stretcher? An unscheduled swim seemed likely and I hadn't even brought along my trunks, however, my concerns were unfounded.

My team of rescuers, about a dozen in all, were calm, professional and positive.

I'd been at the accident site for about 30 minutes when the team arrived, and having waded through water and told to lie on cold rocks it was not a moment too soon.

The rescuers made me feel at ease immediately. One shouted from the opposite side of the gorge that they were on their way.

Slurred replies

At the site, they identified themselves, checked my condition, asked my name and organised my rescue off the remote rocky site.

I'd never felt so helpless in all my life, but I had been instructed not to offer any assistance, as it had to be treated as a real rescue.

Trying to put myself in the position of a injured walker, I gave slurred, blunt replies to their questions, having been advised to act as if I was drunk.

It was not an Oscar-winning performance, but being a fan of the BBC's hospital drama Casualty helped. Put it this way, I'd watched enough episodes to know exactly how to act.

The "walk off" the accident site was surprisingly smooth and comfortable given the unforgiving terrain.

Strapped on a stretcher, I was passed down the rocky slope and across the water.

I didn't once feel anxious and felt confident my rescuers knew exactly what they were doing.

Later, an RAF Sea King rescue helicopter joined in from Chivenor in Devon and I was winched off a nearby hilltop with other members of the rescue team.

BMR has more than 50 call-outs per year, nearly all ending in success and safety for the casualty.

As one team member said in passing to me: "There's always an element of danger associated with the outdoors and if someone is stranded who is going to rescue them if we don't?"

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