Norfolk search heroes hailed for their role in search for missing Blofield pensioner
PUBLISHED: 15:59 09 March 2014 | UPDATED: 10:48 10 March 2014
A volunteer search and rescue team helped find a 74-year-old man after he went missing from his Norfolk home.
Police, growing increasingly concerned for the wellbeing of Blofield resident Alan James after he disappeared on Thursday night, called in Norfolk Lowland Search and Rescue (NORLSAR) on Friday.
The NORLSAR team searched fields, footpaths and rural tracks for five hours on Friday evening before Mr James was located in the South Walsham area by a member of the public on Saturday morning.
Paul Webber, vice-chairman of the group, said searching on foot and in the dark was not easy but the volunteers - most of whom had finished a day at work when they were called on - are trained and equipped to help.
“We were called at about 5.30pm on the Friday and the team were searching until about 10.30pm,” said Mr Webber.
“We have good lighting equipment and the team would have been using their LED torches as well as GPS.
“It’s important to know where you’re going and to be able to report where you’ve been. At the same time, while we’re not looking for clues exactly, we are looking for possible traces; perhaps the person was carrying a bag, had dropped one of their belongings or had left behind some unusual footprints.”
NORLSAR, which receives no government funding, has been assisting the fire service and police in Norfolk for 15 years. The group, which receives no funding from government and relies on donations and grants to cover its increasing more expensive insurance, currently has 30 active members but is looking to double in size before the end of the year.
Volunteers are trained to search lowland and rural areas on foot, but also work on mountain bikes and on waterways.
Mr Webber said the group, which last summer helped when a man and a teenage boy died at Bawsey Pits in King’s Lynn, would like to assist in more cases.
“An estimated 3,500 people go missing in Norfolk every year and NORSLAR probably helps with about one per cent of that,” said Mr Webber.
The volunteers can make the difference between life and death for the people they help find.
“We work with previous missing persons data, using something called Grampion data which takes into consideration factors such as age, gender and health,” said Mr Webber.
“Of course there are a myriad of different factors in each case, but it gives you a rough timescale and we use it to draw up a map which is basically a circle around the last known position and all the prominent features in that area.”
Volunteers head out in teams to search areas inch-by-inch, reporting back to the emergency services. On each case, the individuals are prepared in case they find the worst.
Mr Webber said it is never easy but volunteers are braced for what they might find - unlike the early morning dog walker. They also have access to professional counselling.
“I have come across a number of tragic scenes over the years and it really does focus your attention on the realities of life,” said Mr Webber.
“That’s another reason why part of what we do is to spread a safety message.”
To volunteer with NORSLAR, based next to the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service headquarters in Hethersett, you must be over 18 and able to walk five miles in two hours.