The Search

It’s 1am on a Wednesday morning in autumn. The weather is cold and crisp, and it’s a moonless night.

The phone rings and the Police request assistance in tracing an 83 year-old lady who has been missing for 48 hours. She has advanced dementia and has wandered away from home when her husband went out to get dinner.

We page our members to respond to an area near her home address immediately, and we set about scouring maps and satellite imagery of the area to come up with a deployment plan for when they arrive.

We task foot-teams to search a small wooded area near her house, where she may have fallen.

We also spot that there’s a footpath towards some fields and the River Severn beyond. We task that as a high priority for our bankside-teams and quad-bikes. The Police helicopter has already been over, but we know it has trouble seeing through thick undergrowth.

Our bankside team deploys as a 4 person unit, complete with flotation vests and safety kit. Our quad-teams go out with medical kit.

Hours pass and our numbers swell. We have dozens of searchers out, a command-vehicle running a secure radio network and a response vehicle waiting with more medical kit.

One of the quad-riders spots a break in some reeds and gets off to investigate. He sees a clear path going down in to the riverside and trampled ground. He investigates and discovers her stood up to her shins in the cold, cold river. She’s made herself at home in the reeds – literally thinking she was in her kitchen making dinner.

She tells our man to get out of her house. He steps back so as not to spook her and keys up his radio so we know he’s found something. He speaks softly and introduces himself to her. She’s confused why he’s there and scared.

Other teams hear the radio and scramble to get medical kit and deploy to scene. The Police are alerted and despatch a unit to meet our controller.

She continues to cook, threatening our man with a pan that didn’t exist. But he can’t back away because she’s in the water and he’ll have to grab her if she tries to go any deeper.

Our bankside teams arrive and position slightly downstream, ready to deploy safety kit if things get wetter.

The medical kit is set up and an assessment area arranged away from the water.

20 minutes pass and they have a rapport built. He loves the smell of her cooking but needs her to come with him to get warm. She’s not fussed but less fearful and starting to trust him. And eventually she agrees to walk out of the water.

Medics assist and start observations. An ambulance has arrived at Command and is waiting for a handover. The Police are on scene to assist.

Our members make sure she is calm and carried out safely, medical notes are passed and the case handed over.

Then they pack up, clean down the kit and return to base, or home in some cases.

They grab a shower, some breakfast and caffeine, and head off to work like quiet heroes they are.