Thursday, 31 July 2014

Pull the Trigger!

Failure to pull the trigger is a big problem. Easilly refilled systems allow you to practice or at least pull early without fear of time and a monetary refill penalty if the slide does not propogate. A consequence reduction tool - but only if there are no terrain traps, and trauma will always be an issue. Better to avoid getting avalanched by good planning and choices but a good additional insurance to have on your back.

Clinical Paper

The effectiveness of avalanche airbags 



Asphyxia is the primary cause of death among avalanche victims. Avalanche airbags can lower mortality by directly reducing grade of burial, the single most important factor for survival. This study aims to provide an updated perspective on the effectiveness of this safety device.


A retrospective analysis of avalanche accidents involving at least one airbag user between 1994 and 2012 in Austria, Canada, France, Norway, Slovakia, Switzerland and the United States. A multivariate analysis was used to calculate adjusted absolute risk reduction and estimate the effectiveness of airbags on grade of burial and mortality. A univariate analysis was used to examine causes of non-deployment.


Binomial linear regression models showed main effects for airbag use, avalanche size and injuries on critical burial, and for grade of burial, injuries and avalanche size on mortality. The adjusted risk of critical burial is 47% with non-inflated airbags and 20% with inflated airbags. The adjusted mortality is 44% for critically buried victims and 3% for non-critically buried victims. The adjusted absolute mortality reduction for inflated airbags is −11 percentage points (22% to 11%; 95% confidence interval: −4 to −18 percentage points) and adjusted risk ratio is 0.51 (95% confidence interval: 0.29 to 0.72). Overall non-inflation rate is 20%, 60% of which is attributed to deployment failure by the user.


Although the impact on survival is smaller than previously reported, these results confirm the effectiveness of airbags. Non-deployment remains the most considerable limitation to effectiveness. Development of standardized data collection protocols is encouraged to facilitate further research.


  • Avalanche accidents
  • Mortality
  • Safety equipment
  • Burial prevention

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Overtime, or is it "Over Time"

As Fiona prepares to leave BASP for pastures new, she has been going through some old ZIP drives and found some old stuff of mine.  Here's a wee article she found about a rescue team training day which was followed by attending a rescue on the Cobbler for a climber with a serious head injury. Apologies if its a bit rough and naff but I was just learning to write articles.

This was my first evening at JSMTC.  It's kind of freaky finding the article today as I have been drafting a future Blog post about the way I feel JSMTC is responding to my partial retirement and the actions of line management. On the day in question in 1998 my line manager was Capt. Glynn Shepard. A great bloke and one of the best  line mangers I have had the privilege to work under at the centre

How about a Canyoning training practise suggested the leader (John).  O.K says the team, where?  Let’s get a chopper and fly into the gorge above the German camp Kinlochleven at the end of April suggests the leader.  O.K we say.  Two Sundays later we have an interesting day with me a bit twitchy as I start a new job at 7.00pm that night.

It all begins at the new rescue centre.  We meet, and as usual plans are laid back.  Rescue 137 arrives to find a semi comatose bunch of ex hippies and thrusting youth ready for action.  Wet suits and other apparel are donned by John who has a cunning stunt in mind.  We land amid the alder clad brush above Kinlochleven in a scene that would do justice to the classic Vietnam chopper book “Chickenhawk”.  Paul Moores decides to climb into the gorge and simulate a broken neck.  Rudimentary belays spring up all around as a variety of MIC’s and prawn fishermen try to assert who is best with ropes.  The result was functional rather than aesthetically pleasing, and a truce was called.  Paul is packaged ready for hauling when a shout is heard and John  falls backward over a 20’ raging waterfall and disappears off downstream.  John reappears some 30mins later wondering why nobody went to his aid as this perhaps wasn’t a planned exit?
John Greive about to jump into the River Leven up at "The Worlds End" pools to add a bit of spice to the scenario
Much hauling and cursing sees the casualty transported to a clearing in the wood and all 15 of us pile in for the flight back to base.  Coffee and biscuits later, the winchman runs in to find John as they  “have a job” and need 2 team plus “the medic” - me.  In we pile.  Ronny, Paul Moores and I.  No word yet from RCCK as to where the job is.  We fly over the by now wet and gray hills southward for 30 mins.  Word is the casualty is in a serious condition after a long fall . We fly up through the mist to the ridge which leads over to the casualty and spot figures waving frantically. The chopper lands on and out we pile running along the ridge and down to get to him. 

We find the casualty on a grassy ledge 80’ below where he fell.  He is very injured and needs to go to hospital quickly.  He is unfortunately surrounded by doctors and nurses from a medics hillwalking group.  Many pale anaemic doctor types looking 16 but probably 30 years begin to be assertive in the company of us aliens from the sky.  Diagnosis’s abound.  It soon becomes apparent that none are as slick as they thought, and good old fashioned naked aggression from us seems to get things back under control.  As a peacemaking gesture the oldest looking of the bunch was given the cannula to put in.  This he did with gusto, but when he seemed perplexed as no blood came out the end it became apparent that unlike the cannula, he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box.

The casualty  was quickly packaged and carried down a little way till the chopper could come in and lift him.  After this the helo landed again on the ridge, and after a sprint back to get on board we were winging our way to The General Suffering hospital in Glasgow. 

After a 15min flight we landed on what appeared like a Tesco car park miles from the A/E entrance.  Winchy and I disembark with the casualty onto the back of a flat bedded van with two gum chewing pirates dressed as nurses on board.  I am met with  “ah like yer truss jimmy - musta been some party”, referring to my state of the art Petzl guru harness.  After a short journey we entered the A/E and do our handover.  The casualty has spinal injuries as well as a pneumothorax and pelvic fractures, so all in a good bit of teamwork  between SAR crew and MRT, we feel chuffed. 

Some time later  I need a pee.  Wandering around I see a doppelganger - bugger me, its Ronnie!  “How’s it going Dave? I’ve been wandering around for ages.  The choppers gone to Glasgow airport with Paul.  How are we going to get back home?”  I see a clock and its 5.00pm.  I start at 7.00 so it looks like a bad start in my career as an honorary soldier.  Several phone calls later the Police agree to take us to the airport.  The police duly arrive and drive us like the clappers through Sunday football traffic to the airport police station.  Good news is that I can phone wifey to say I may be late for tea.  “Where the ****k  did you say you are!”  she says incredulously.  Bad news is that they won’t allow us onto the airfield to look for the chopper unless we get searched.  So, off we go in our S&M kit with all the dangly jingly bits, accompanied by sniggering from the pale anaemic wee jimmy’s who think their smart. 

We eventually get ushered to a small departure lounge and meet up with the SAR aircrew.  It seems that such is the paranoia about terrorism that despite having a big yellow budgie with RAF on the side, and flying suits/helmets etc, that they also had to be body searched and they are not amused.  Beep goes the body scanner again - ****k it goes Davy.  Off we go then, eventually, and try and find what is a big  ****k off helicopter in Glencoe, but which looks like a wee budgie when we eventually find it among some 747’s.  We eventually get on board and ages later get permission to taxi out among the giants.  We take off into the gathering gloom and fly North West down Loch Lomond.  After 50 mins of juddering and shivering we land back in Glencoe where a  quick shave and change sees me racing off to start my new job.

I’m in the door at JSMTC at 7.00 exactly,  and sort out the gear.  First student in is most unimpressed by the gloomy weather,  and a bit ratty.  His first words to me;  “fuckin ell mate - must be fookin boring stayin in this place” - Great joy at being paid overtime in my new job, and having had a nice wee day out, I said nothing.

David Gunn
April 1998

Back in the day when I could cannulate invisible veins on hypothermic patients and get some opiates onboard.  Hundreds of theatre hours don't prepare you for shutdown patients who still need analgesia.