Over the last week Mountain Rescue Teams from all over England and Wales have contributed an estimated 9250 man hours to the search for missing Mid-Wales five-year-old April Jones. The volunteers have now been stood down, but in the light of the media interest surrounding the case Mountain Rescue England and Wales (MREW) issued a statement today explaining their role.
'We are limited in what more we can say about this whole operation but any support in spreading a message of thanks to employers and families of the search teams and to the people of Machynlleth at this awful time would be much appreciated' a representative of MREW told us.
On Tuesday 2 October Dyfed Powys Police requested mountain rescue assistance in the search for April Jones as part of a multi-agency response.
'Initially our task was to help coordinate the fantastic efforts being made by local volunteer searchers' says Simon Woodhead of Brecon MRT, one of the teams most closely involved, 'and conduct searches around the residential areas of Machynlleth.'
The scale of the operation quickly increased and mountain rescue teams and search dogs were brought in from throughout Wales, and subsequently from across the UK - a response of unprecedented scale, say MREW.
Throughout the week and over the weekend the specialist mountain, cave, water and dog teams of mountain rescue worked through a systematic search plan based on current search management science. This involved an overhead team of approximately 20 experienced search managers and administrators behind the scenes, co-ordinating the efforts of on average 200 searchers per day.
Almost all the work has been in remote and inaccessible areas, MREW explain. This included areas best suited to mountain search and rescue skills such as the forestry, hills, rivers and quarry workings around Machynlleth - over 70 square kilometres in total.
Mountain Rescue is not unfamiliar with major incidents, says MREW, and volunteer teams were significant contributors to efforts in Lockerbie, Morecambe Bay and the Cumbrian floods.
'What is unfamiliar to us is the level of recognition and media attention we have received here' Simon Woodhead explains.
'The focus has been to find April, applying our skills to the intelligence available to us. We have now reached a point where we have exhausted the search of areas best suited to our skills, given what we currently know, and the tasks now being generated are more suited to specially trained police search teams.' Mountain rescue operations were suspended last night.
'We have worked very closely with the Police and remain on-hand to assist with the search if the Police consider it appropriate. Meanwhile local teams intend to return as and when possible' says Simon.
'Members of mountain rescue receive no payment or expenses, and have only been able to attend here with the support of their families and employers. Similarly the support received from the people of Machynlleth has been extraordinary and we cannot put into words our appreciation for all they've done for us. This is a harrowing time for April's family and the community, and our thoughts are with them all.'
The teams involved have included: Aberdovey MRT, Aberglaslyn MRT, Brecon MRT, Bowland Pennine MRT, Central Beacons MRT, Edale MRT, Glossop MRT, Kinder MRT, Llanberis MRT, Longtown MRT, Midlands Cave Rescue, North East Wales SAR, North Wales Cave Rescue Organisation, North Yorkshire Cave Rescue, Ogwen Valley MRT, Oldham MRT, Rossendale and Pendle MRT, SARDA England, SARDA Isle of Man, SARDA South Wales, SARDA Wales, South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Organisation, South Snowdonia MRT and Western Beacons MRT.