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RAF Mountain Rescue Service celebrates 80 years of life saving for military personnel

The Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service (MRS) is a blue-light emergency service for the provision of medical aid in the mountains, whether rescuing downed aircrew, missing military personnel or civilians.

Mountain Rescue Service personnel disembarking from a chinook

Since humble beginnings in 1943 at RAF Llandwrog, the MRS has rescued and saved many lives at Aircraft Post Crash and Incident Management (APCIM) callouts and by assisting civilian MRT counterparts. Time and equipment may have changed significantly throughout the last 80 years, but the MRS’s people and mindsets haven’t.

Mountain Rescue Service personnel abseiling with a stretcher

In early 1942 an RAF Station search party, whom at the time made their own ad-hoc arrangements to locate and provide medical treatment for downed aircrew, found direction under Flight Lieutenant George Graham, Station Medical Officer at RAF Llandwrog.

Mountain Rescue search party 1942

A year later, after Flight Lieutenant Graham realised the equipment and expertise were inadequate to counter the number of aircraft crashes in Eryri Snowdonia, the RAF saw the inauguration of three Station MRTs for the coordination of aircrew rescues. Despite the loss of 571 lives in 220 aircraft crashes in 1943, the foundations of the MRS had been laid. The experience, hard work and enthusiasm of the early pioneers has remained pertinent over time that has seen RAF MRTs based in Cyprus, Hong Kong and the Middle East, and been deployed on overseas callouts including Borneo, Albania and Alaska.

The MRS’s primary Defence role of APCIM and searching for missing military personnel is an integral part of our training. In the early years, many of the teams were not trained for technical rescues on crags; the nucleus of the teams consisted of fell and hill walkers rather than climbers and mountaineers.

Sergeant in the 1940s on Mountain rescue

Experience showed that a practical knowledge of mountaineering was essential to the success of rescues. Thus, the development of individual rock and winter climbing skills has been actively included within the MRS’s training syllabus, having a substantial impact on the climbing abilities of MRS Troops. This was demonstrated in 2001, when Flight Sergeant Dan Carroll and Corporal ‘Rusty’ Bale reached the summit of Everest by its North Ridge during the MRS’s millennium expedition.

In 2021, RAF Leeming MRT introduced MRS’ RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System)/ drone capability. Drones have increasingly become an essential part our rescues for their usability in arduous terrain when searching for missing aircrew. Furthermore, it has redefined what is possible for APCIM by providing thermal imaging capabilities and 3D mapping of aircraft incident sites.

“It is a privilege to command the RAF MRS in the year of its 80th anniversary, a role which would be impossible without the deep skillset and dedication of all MRS Troops. It is not lost on me that our current and future operational capability, and safe practices, are the result of 8 decades of innovation from all our predecessors, and for this we should be extremely thankful.”

Officer Commanding MRS