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Rescuing lives from the skies - funding helping to equip life saving search & rescue services

Gareth Evans, Assistant Director, Rural Affairs Division, DAERA, (right) is pictured handing over a letter of offer to Chris Dugan (left) and Paul Trimble (middle) from Skywatch NI.

Almost £500,000 has been given to two search and rescue groups that played a vital role in controlling last year’s devastating fire on the Mourne Mountains.

Mourne Mountain Rescue received £212,000 and Skywatch NI received £284,000 from the new £2million Covid Scheme announced by Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots. The scheme will help nine of the Northern Ireland Search and Rescue (NISAR) teams, who rescue some 500 people each year, to purchase essential life-saving equipment.

Minister Poots visited Co Down to hand over letters of offer to the organisations. The Minister said:

“The organisations I have visited showcase the very best of Northern Ireland. They are community organisations that rely wholly on the commitment and dedication of volunteers who often risk their own lives for the protection of others.

“Both organisations played a vital role in the fire that scorched the Mournes in April 2021. Mourne Mountain Rescue assisted on the ground, while Skywatch NI helped to direct the NI Fire and Rescue Service with thermal imaging from hi-tech drones. Without a doubt, their contribution helped to save lives, businesses and minimise the impact on biodiversity in the area.

“This funding will enable NISAR teams from across the region to purchase essential life-saving equipment such as all-terrain vehicles, defibrillators and fire-resistant PPEs.”

The Minister continued:

“Throughout the pandemic there has been an increase in the number of people visiting our countryside and using our waterways and in some cases this has led to an increase in the level of call-outs experienced by Northern Ireland Search and Rescue Services. This scheme will help improve the responsiveness of the NISAR services and safeguard delivery of those services into the future.”

Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots is pictured handing over a letter of offer to Ian McCracken, Mourne Mountain Rescue.

The first letter of offer was presented to Mourne Mountain Rescue who received just over £200,000 to purchase a wide range of equipment and personal protective equipment. This includes: a multi-road, All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV); a specially adapted 4 x 4; inflatable shelter; defibrillators; specialist PPE; and mountain rescue stretchers.

Martin McMullan, Mourne Mountain Rescue said:

“The Mourne Mountain Rescue Team is an entirely voluntary 999 Emergency Service on call 24 hrs a day, 365 days a year, ready to respond to assist those in need through mishap, injury or illness whilst living, working, and playing in the greater Mourne region.

“As one of the busiest teams on the island of Ireland, with over 100 rescues in the 2021 calendar year, pressures on the team and its specialist resources, including wear and tear have increased considerably.

“The funds awarded through the DAERA Rural Community Rescue Fund will enable us to expand our resources, reducing pressures and increasing the capacity of the team to meet with the continually growing demand. We’re exceptionally grateful to the Department and its Officers for making such a significant contribution to the team and in turn, to the wider Mourne Community as a whole.”

The other letter of offer was presented to Skywatch NI who received funding of just over £280,000 for drones, fire resistant PPE, a multi-road All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) and rescue vehicles. This equipment will allow Skywatch to use drones with thermal imaging to search for missing persons and direct the Fire Service to gorse and forest fires.

Paul Trimble, Skywatch said:

“Skywatch NI is a charity that provides aerial surveillance to statutory services for emergency response. We are delighted to receive this invaluable funding from DAERA.

“We will use it to purchase four wheel drive vehicles, drones and an ATV and these will help give access to mountains and difficult terrains for search and rescue.”

The Minister concluded:

“I am delighted to be able to provide this necessary support to community Search and Rescue Services to ensure that our rural open spaces and waterways are safe and attractive to the increasing the number of visitors we have to our countryside.”

The Mourne Mountain Rescue Team is based in Newcastle, Co Down and made up entirely of volunteers. All operations and callouts are currently conducted from the PSNI Station.

Sky Watch NI is a search and rescue charity based in Northern Ireland. They search for vulnerable missing people using manned, unmanned aircraft and an underwater search system. They also provide aerial cover for wildland fires and floods.


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