Incident 18/2011

On the late evening of Tuesday 8th February, eight men aged from 20 to 32 from the Bolton and Manchester area, decided to drive two four-wheel drive vehicles onto Darwen Moor with the aim being to reach Darwen Tower via the narrow track/bridle way system.

In heavy rain and poor visibility, having reached Darwen Tower, they apparently tried to retrace the route they had driven on the moorland tracks, but became disorientated resulting in them becoming totally lost somewhere on Darwen Moor (the vehicles became bogged down whilst attempting to turn round on the narrow bridle way track)

Just before midnight, an emergency mobile phone call was received by Greater Manchester Police from the group with GMP passing the call immediately to Lancashire Constabulary in whose area the moorland lies. Lancashire Constabulary had intermittent contact with the group from just after midnight onwards, with at the time no immediate concern, given that they were a large group with the protection and cover of two vehicles, albeit stuck and lost somewhere on the moor.

With further contact from the lost group to the Police, the Lancashire Constabulary Air Support Unit attempted to locate the group but darkness, low cloud, heavy rain and the obvious hazard of high moorland precluded any attempt from the helicopter being able to fly close to Darwen Moor.

Lancashire Constabulary decided to call out our team at 02:48 to locate this group of males (to join in Police attempts to locate the group). Because of the very inclement weather, Lancashire Constabulary decided not to commit their officers onto Darwen Moor, but to leave this task to the Bolton MRT.

We despatched four team Land Rovers and 26 team members to RVP with police at the Ocean Palace restaurant at Bull Hill, on the A666 on the outskirts of Darwen. Our Team Leader arrived on scene at 03:55, gathering more intelligence and formulating a search plan in liaison with our Deputy Team Leader Geoff Seddon.

In the meantime, unbeknownst to the team, one of the group, attempting to walk North East off the moor in the direction of Belgrave Road (Bold Venture Park) Darwen, actually walked off at Sunnyhurst Inn, a point much further North. A police patrol located this male, who was then taken back onto the moor in our BM1 Land Rover with two crew on board to try and locate his seven companions and two vehicles (suffice to say, the man had no map, and no idea of where he had travelled nor where his party was actually located).

At 05:07 the seven men and their two vehicles were located by our BM1 vehicle and with team member Martin Banks staying with four of the males, the other four were immediately evacuated in our BM1 vehicle, which arrived at Darwen Police station at 06:03.

During this time, our BM2, 3 and 4 Land Rovers were despatched to collect the remaining four men and team member Martin Banks from the scene, and to also make an attempt to recover their two off-road vehicles. In very wet conditions, and due to the depth that the vehicles had become bogged down, the recovery attempt was quickly abandoned in favour of returning the men to the warmth and comfort of Darwen Police station, where they arrived at 06:42.

All team members then assembled back at the original RVP of the Ocean Palace restaurant, leaving the RVP at 07:30. The group’s two vehicles remain on Darwen Moor. (Despite modern technology, at the end of the day the group was found by the detailed local knowledge of the Bolton MRT)

This was the first major callout for all of our new trainees, who now have experience of milling around for many hours in an exposed car park on the edge of the moors in the rain and wind!

The resources involved in this incident were:

  • GMP Air Support Unit helicopter in liaison with Lancashire Constabulary Air Support Unit helicopter (which was deployed)
  • GMP Control room in liaison with Lancashire Constabulary control room, who coordinated the search
  • Lancashire Constabulary local divisional officers in two vehicles
  • Bolton MRT, 4 Land Rover MR Ambulances, 26 team members deployed to the incident scene and RVP, with an additional team member coordinating the initial stages of our response from the team’s Ladybridge Hall base.