A long night for the Mountain Rescue Teams at Sourton

More than 40 Mountain Rescue volunteers supported the emergency services assisting stranded motorists on the A30 at Sourton during Thursday night’s snow storm.

At 18:45 on Thursday evening, less than 4 hours into the red weather warning, North Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team was called by the police to assist with the welfare and extraction of motorists stuck on the A30 at Sourton Cross.

David Stoneman, Team Leader, explained: "Our first problem was reaching the team centre to fetch the landrovers and equipment. As everyone is now aware the snow was falling thick and fast by then and while a few members live locally many are further afield and had to travel. Fortunately some members have 4x4s and were able to collect others. We had 19 volunteer members out on Thursday night, some travelling from as far as Chulmleigh, Holsworthy and Stibbs Cross.

"After meeting at the team centre our next challenge was to get to Sourton Cross, we couldn’t use the A30 as it was blocked so we took the A386. We managed to get the team landrovers to within about a mile of Sourton Cross where we found the road blocked by abandoned and stuck vehicles. We assisted several drivers enabling them to get moving and managed to reach Sourton Cross. By this time, it was about 21.30, it had taken nearly an hour to get from Okehampton to Sourton.

"Our first tasking was to move along the A30, informing those in cars and lorries to stay in their vehicles and also to identify those at high risk; this included the elderly, young children and people who needed routine medicine but didn’t have it with them. Our sister teams, Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team (Tavistock) and Dartmoor search and Rescue Team (Plymouth), supported us with this task and through-out the night as did a crew from Okehampton Fire Station.

"Once we’d made contact with the drivers and their passengers, all the organisations, volunteer, public and private, worked together to clear a route along the A30 to allow convoys of cars to be escorted into Okehampton.  More than 100 vehicles were escorted into Okehampton where an emergency shelter, manned by more volunteers, had been set-up at the Community College.

"While some of our members were involved with the evacuation into Okehampton, others were tasked to search for vehicles along the A386, both north to the Manor House Hotel and south to Sourton village. By now the wind had created drifts big enough to completely cover cars. Several vehicles had been abandoned and where there were occupants we assisted them into landrovers to be driven to the emergency shelter in Okehampton.

"Finally at 4:45am Friday morning, when it was considered everyone was in a safe place, the Dartmoor Search and Rescue Teams were stood down."

Asked how he felt about the night, David said: "It was wild, the wind was relentlessly driving the snow into your face and it was bitterly cold. It was exactly as predicted and our members put themselves at risk to help others. There was however a good community spirit with good joint working between volunteers and paid professionals; and the staff at Sourton Services and Travelodge were great making us hot drinks and providing a place to shelter for a break."

The rescue teams’ efforts didn’t stop there. On Friday all Mountain Rescue teams across the South West were asked to provide 4x4 vehicles with a driver and casualty carer (advanced first aider) to support the Ambulance service. North Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team provided three vehicles for the day.