Search and rescue volunteers test skills near Uckfield

Nearly 200 search and rescue volunteers descended on Ashdown Forest on Sunday in a major exercise designed to test skills and capabilities.

It was organised and hosted by Sussex Police at its Kingstanding training facility near Uckfield, and involved a hunt for four people – in reality, enthusiastic police cadets – lost in the forest.

Those taking part included specialists from Sussex Police, volunteers from Sussex Search and Rescue, Surrey Search and Rescue, ALSAR Search Dogs Sussex, Sussex 4×4 Response and three Sussex Neighbourhood Watch teams.

They were assisted from the air by three fixed wing aircraft and a helicopter from the voluntary Air Search organisation, along with operators of the Sussex Police drone, based at Gatwick.

Sergeant Russ Phillips, who organised the exercise, said: “Conditions weren’t as bad as they are experiencing further north, but the chilly weather was a valuable reminder of just how wild and hostile some of the remoter areas of Sussex can be.

“Our scenario involved four high risk missing people and provided opportunities not only for searching techniques, but also for first aid, recovery and medivac (medical evacuation).

“While the exercise did unfortunately necessitate the recovery of a ‘body’, I am pleased to say that all four of our cadets were successfully found, returned safely and were very grateful for warm drinks and a meal.”

Al Hornby, chairman of Sussex Search and Rescue, said: “This was a very demanding day with icy conditions and snow on the ground, but that did not deter 25 of our members or those of our fellow organisations. We were able to put many skills to the test in a search continuing for more than six hours and these were all enthusiastically embraced.

“All of the missing people were successfully located, but above all else it was extremely successful in forging understanding and closer working relationships between all the teams.”

See a video and see pictures from the exercise below:

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