RNLI rescuers needed everything but their boats to reach patients stuck in snow
A mother to be who was 38 weeks pregnant and a man needing to undergo kidney dialysis treatment are among those rescued from remote snow-bound communities by the RNLI’s Flood Rescue Team based at St Asaph in North Wales over the past couple of days.
The RNLI’s Flood Rescue Teams are made up of specially trained volunteers ready to respond when flooding occurs, but with the recent severe weather many of the teams have been using their search and rescue skills to help those trapped by snow.
Yesterday (Friday 2 March) volunteers from the North Wales team undertook a six hour journey in treacherous conditions to reach an expectant mother in a hilltop cottage in Pentrefoelas, near Betws-y-Coed, so that she could be nearer a hospital if she went into labour.
‘It’s hard enough getting up there in the summer,’ said RNLI volunteer Greg Donald, who drove one of the charity’s Land Rovers through challenging conditions and blocked roads to reach her remote home. Volunteer Darrell Graham followed up in a support vehicle.
‘The road was impassable due to the weather conditions and all access was blocked with three to fifteen foot snow-drifts,' Greg described, explaining that at one point he was forced to leave the road and drive his 4x4 across fields to get to the cottage. Eventually he had to abandon the vehicle and make the last part of the journey on foot.
‘My concern was if she did run into difficulty there could have been problems getting her out of there to hospital,’ said Greg. ‘She was two weeks from her due date, but I’m a dad and I know two weeks is nothing, it could happen any minute.’
The mother-to-be decided to pack her bags and head back in the Land Rover, which Greg eventually managed to drive to her door. Before leaving, Greg also checked on the occupants of several other remote houses to see if anyone else was in urgent need of assistance.
Once back at base in St Asaph, the woman was picked up by a relative who lived in Rhyl, far nearer the hospital, to await the baby’s arrival.
On the same day, another rescue mission, led by volunteers Guy Williams and Leighton Jones, set off for the village of Dawn, near Betws-yn-Rhos in North Wales to reach a man who needed to get to hospital for kidney dialysis treatment.
‘It’s a little cottage in the middle of nowhere surrounded on three sides by mountains,’ said Guy. ‘The man normally has a volunteer from the Red Cross, but she uses her own car and had rang to say she couldn’t get out of her drive. The ambulance did try to get there, but it couldn’t get there either. I think we were the last resort apart from the helicopter.’
Using an RNLI 4x4, the volunteers were able to get the man to Glan Clwyd Hospital where his treatment could begin.
Over recent days the team at St Asaph have also helped transport nurses, doctors and other hospital staff from their homes to Glan Clwyd Hospital, due to heavy snow in the area creating treacherous driving conditions on smaller roads.
Most of the members of the RNLI Flood Rescue Team come from neighbouring lifeboat stations, including Rhyl, Conwy, Beaumaris, Aberystwyth, Abersoch and Criccieth and also volunteer their time to assist in flood conditions.
Volunteer Callum Robinson said although the crews were trained to deal with floods, their skills in map-reading, communications and rescue meant they were ideally suited to help out in severe weather situations. ‘As one of my colleagues said to me, it is water out there - just that it’s frozen!’
‘For us this has been a real community support mission,’ he explained. ‘It really is a multi-agency approach, we’ve been supporting organisations such as the NHS. It means we can take on some of the jobs that mountain rescue and the Red Cross would do and that allows them to be able to take on the more challenging rescues. We are not mountain rescue, far from it, but it frees them up to do their specialist work.’
Around fourteen RNLI volunteers have been taking part in the operation in North Wales and additional volunteers have also been providing a similar role in South Wales. ‘We were meant to be having a training exercise this weekend, so we changed it into a real rescue mission!’ added Callum.
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Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.