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Should helicopters have a hoist or ‘long-line’ capability to perform mountain rescue in the UK?
  1. John Ellerton1,
  2. Hannah Gilbert2
  1. 1Medical Officer Mountain Rescue (England and Wales), member and vice president of ICAR Medcom, Penrith, UK
  2. 2Penninsula Medical School, Plymouth, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr John Ellerton, Pinfold, Nicholson Lane, Penrith, Cumbria CA11 7UL, UK; ellerton{at}


Objectives To determine how far mountain rescue casualties in the UK have to be carried and the impact of adding a hoist or ‘long-line’ to helicopters operating in this environment.

Design Retrospective analysis of mountain rescue incidents.

Setting Pre-hospital, mountain rescue service based in Patterdale, English Lake District.

Participants Casualties between 1 January 2006 and 31 December 2008 that required stretcher evacuation. Casualties directly accessible by a road ambulance were excluded.

Main outcome The horizontal and vertical distance of the evacuation route to an agreed helicopter-landing site, and its technical character. Direct access to the incident site by a helicopter with a hoist or long-line capability was determined.

Results 119 casualties were identified. The median horizontal and vertical evacuation distances were 250 m and −30 m respectively. The proposed manual carrying distances were ≤100 m in 33/119 (28%), between 101 and 400 m in 60/119 (50%) and >400 m in 26/119 (22%) of casualties. 13/119 (11%) casualties were in a position where direct access to the incident site would not have been possible with a helicopter equipped with a hoist or long-line. 31/119 (26%) casualties required a technical evacuation with the use of ropes.

Conclusions Using the criteria that all casualties requiring a technical rescue or >400 m evacuation route to an appropriate helicopter-landing site, 34% of casualties could have been rescued using a hoist or long-line with an expected reduction in the pre-hospital time. Helicopters working in UK mountain rescue should be equipped to international standards.

  • Emergency medical services
  • rescue work
  • mountain rescue
  • air ambulances
  • mountaineering
  • emergency care systems
  • remote and rural medicine
  • environmental medicine
  • mountain rescue
  • nursing
  • pre-hospital

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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