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    Callout 03/2019 - Haldon Hill, various locations 14:19 31st January 2019

    Rescue team members undertaking welfare checks on the A380 at Haldon Hill, Exeter

    As part of our role in the multi-agency response to snow events on Haldon Hill just outside Exeter, the team responded in preparation for an expected snow event.

    Bad weather (snow) was expected to hit Haldon Hill between 15:00 and 18:00 on the 31st January. Team search managers were involved with various briefings with the emergency services and Devon County Council emergency planners earlier in the week and placed the team on standby from midday on the 31st. All agencies prime objective was to keep members of the public and their teams safe, followed by keeping vehicles moving on the A38 and A380 road arteries.

    DART52 Land rover ambulance in the snow at Kingsteignton

    Team members and vehicles deployed to both sides of the hill from 15:00 to make sure members could reach any location. The East side of the hill was covered from Kennford and the West side Kingsteignton.

    The weather front was travelling from the west and affected Bodmin Moor in Cornwall during the afternoon causing major traffic disruption. It travelled slower than expected and didn't hit Kingsteignton until around 18:00 when conditions deteriorated quickly and snow soon began to cause problems on the A38/A380.

    Rescue team members undertaking welfare checks on the A380 at Haldon Hill, Exeter

    Within 30 minutes vehicles became stuck on both sides of the hill and teams were deployed to undertake welfare checks on drivers and their passengers Working with the other agencies members did their best to unblock the routes to let snow ploughs and gritters through and help vehicles that had become stuck to get on their way.

    Our team leader Keith Lambeth speaking to the 'i' national newspaper said:

    "We were looking for vulnerable people and those who were ill or with injuries. One family group included a one year old baby. Members stayed with them and made sure they were kept warm until the emergency services  arrived and they could get underway"

    "It was like heavy-metal Jenga with the stranded trucks. We pushed around 80 vehicles with muscle power to enable the gritters to get through."

    "We are all volunteers who live locally and when people are in trouble we do our very best to help. We usually operate on Dartmoor but we've been part of the response to Haldon Hill snow issues about eight times in the 15 years. Our members came from home and straight from work in some cases to help others."

    Team controllers stationed in our incident control vehicle at Kennford stand down around midnight

    "Rescue teams from across the SW region were out doing the same sort of work in their respective areas to help keep the county's roads free-flowing. We have the skills to help it's just what we do But we couldn't do it without the support of our families at home."

    The roads eventually reached some sort of normality around midnight although routes were still slippery in places. Team members returned to their homes having been deployed for around 8 hours.

     

     

    Published in Callouts 2019

    Following 2 high profile severe weather events on the A38 and A380 at Haldon and Telegraph Hills in 2009 and 2010, (the latter event involved Dartmoor Search and Rescue Ashburton rescuing motorists), where drivers and their passengers were stranded for up to 8 hours following heavy snowfall, emergency response agencies have collaborated on a response plan so as to be fully prepared should a similar weather event happen again.

    stranded motorists due to the snow on Haldon Hill in 2010

    Photo credit: Pete Sherman, DSRT Ashburton. DSRT response to Haldon Hill snow event 2010

    The first event overnight on the 5th February 2009 saw around 200 people being rescued from their stranded vehicles after a sharp snowfall of up to 12 inches occurred in a matter of hours. 

    Team member Al Pewsey experienced the event first hand (before he joined the team) as he travelled over Haldon in his car on the A38 that night. 

    ‘I left Exmouth in the pouring rain which turned to sleet as I approached Splatford Split at Kennford. I could see vehicle hazard warning lights at the top of Telegraph Hill on the Torquay road but the A38 looked clear. As I turned the corner after the A38/A380 split I was presented with vehicles that had ground to a halt as the sleet had turned to snow due to the increase in altitude.’

    Stuck in traffic on the A38 at Haldon Hill in the snow of 2009

    Photo credit: Al Pewsey, Haldon Hill snow event 2009.

    ‘The snow was settling very quickly and vehicles just weren’t getting anywhere. I managed to manoeuvre my Mini through the traffic chaos until I reached the front of blockage and a stuck lorry driver offered to give me a push which gave me enough momentum to get over the top. As I looked in my rear view mirror as I reached the top of the hill by the racecourse, I was the last car to make it over.’

    ‘I continued down the other side and all I could see were the crash barriers either side of the road as the road was under a thick blanket of snow. I knew as I descended the hill the snow would clear - which it did - and I was able to get home safely.

    Travelling the A38 over Haldon Hill in a blizzard and thick snow was quite an experience

    Photo credit: Al Pewsey, Haldon Hill snow event 2009.

    The Highways Agency and other services struggled with the conditions as snowploughs and gritters couldn’t get through the traffic chaos which meant the roads couldn’t be cleared hence stranding motorists. Fortunately there were no serious injuries on either occasion and agencies have learnt from the experience and are now far better prepared.

    The resulting ‘Haldon Hill Severe Weather Response Plan’ involves many of the statutory authorities including the Highways Agency, Devon County Council and the 999 emergency services, as well as voluntary organisations such as Dartmoor Search and Rescue and Devon 4x4 response. 

    Part of this plan is to identify any potential severe weather events that may affect the major road arteries over Haldon in advance and assemble the various agencies ‘just in case’ to makes sure everybody is in the right place and ready to act should it be needed.

    Our team search managers were called to a briefing at 4am this morning with all the relevant agencies, and positioned our incident control vehicle at Kennford ‘just in case’. Callout members were put on heightened alert last night ready to respond should we be needed so we could be in place ready to help before the rush hour commenced this morning.

    Fortunately, the plan wasn’t required and we were stood down, for now, but are still on alert should the weather deteriorate later in the week.

    DSRT Ashburton respond to Haldon Hill snow event 2010

    Team leader Keith Lambeth said ‘The Haldon Hill response plan has learnt from the various agencies being caught out in 2009 and 2010 and means agencies are much better prepared now.’

    ‘However, drivers still need to keep abreast of the local weather forecast and reports, and plan their journeys accordingly and only travel where absolutely necessary if adverse weather is predicted. If you need to travel, make sure you carry in your vehicle spare food, drink,warm clothing and supplies such as a sleeping bag or blanket, and clothing for bad weather including boots, so that you can keep yourself and your passengers safe should you get stranded.’ 

    ‘Cars cool down very quickly once the ignition is switched off and without anything to keep you warm, you are putting yourself and your passengers at risk.’

    Weather forecast for Exeter: XC Weather forecast for Exeter

    Weather Radar: Net Weather Radar

    Published in News
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