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Heroes of the mountains brave the elements to save the stricken; They're the hardy band of volunteers who have helped with everything from locating lost climbers to joining the tragic search for April Jones and assisting the rescue effort at the Aberfan disaster. As Central Beacons Mountain Rescue marks its 50th anniversary, Abbie Wightwick caught up with its team as they look back at five decades of emergency responses.

Prince William to the base and seen a huge surge in walking and climbing.

Peter also lost a good friend on Pen y Fan and recalls the trauma of helping after the 1966 Aberfan disaster.

When the colliery spoil heap collapsed onto a school and homes killing 116 children and 28 adults Peter, 19, was at work. He quickly downed tools to help with the rescue effort.

"It was a pretty rough experience for everyone because a large number of children died," he recalls.

"My job was to set up a radio link between civil defence HQ and the school.

"I was working with the Electricity Board in Merthyr when I was called up and told 'a wall was falling on the school'.

"I went into the chapel in Aberfan where the bodies were because we had people helping with paper work . I'll never forget working there."

Nearly 20 years later tragedy struck again when his friend and fellow rescuer Mike Ruddle lost his life on Pen y Fan when a loose boulder struck him during a rescue in 1983.

The team was carrying off an injured walker when Mike was struck.

"Things like that do change you. Life isn't risk free," Peter says.

Nowadays team members are offered counselling, and coping with the emotional effects of incidents is part of initial and on-going training.

But it's rare people lose their lives, adds Peter.

Most rescues have a good outcome with lost and injured walkers and climbers - and even the occasional animal - helped to safety.

The team's newest member Geraint Howells - no relation to Peter - says joining the team was one of the best decisions he's ever made.

Geraint, 44, a depot manager for Stagecoach, joined in 2011 because he wanted "a bit more from life".

The father of two from Abercynon trained for eight months before going on his first rescue.

Sent to help in the hunt for missing five-year-old April Jones last year Geraint spent a week scouring the woods and fields around Machynlleth.

"I was up there for a week. It was a difficult thing. The recent court case brought it all back. But we are a good, close knit team and talked about it among ourselves."

The team has members from all walks of life including students, teachers, doctors, accountants and engineers.

When a call comes the first five to reach the base head out within 15 minutes.

It's a team and a response time Jack Powell would have been proud of, says Peter.

AS MANY AS 100 RESCUES A YEAR | Central Beacons Mountain Rescue Team was formed in 1963 as a Civil Defence Rescue Team with less than 20 members | The team became Morlais Mountain Rescue before changing its name to Central Beacons Mountain Rescue in 1996 | Today it has 52 members covering 1,437 square km of the Brecon Beacons | In 1963 the team went to around nine rescues a year. In 2013 the team has been called out more than 40 times and attends between 80 and 100 rescues every year | All members are unpaid volunteers on call 24 hours a day 365 days a year on rota | When a call comes, the first five to reach the base in Merthyr head out within 15 minutes | Rescuers help police and other emergency services in everything from injured climbers to missing people, stranded dogs and even, once, a helicopter crash | CBMRT gets some grants but is mainly self financing. The team is trying to raise more than PS100,000 to buy new equipment and vehicles OVER the years it has saved countless lives and helped in tragedies from the Aberfan disaster to the hunt for April Jones.

As it celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, South Wales' first volunteer mountain rescue team, Central Beacons Mountain Rescue, is experiencing one of the busiest times ever, says team leader Penny Brockman To mark the anniversary members are compiling a book of photographs and memories and launching a fundraising mission to buy three new vehicles and equipment.

Penny's husband, Peter Howells, was one of the first members of the team, which he joined aged 17 in 1964.

Now the team's chairman, Peter has seen mountain rescue, its equipment and training change beyond recognition in half a century.

When he joined, rescuers "could only imagine" a world where smart phones would locate lost walkers to within a few feet or even the light, waterproof equipment they wear now.

"The team formed because more people started going out on the mountains and incidents on the Beacons were increasing from two or three a year to much more - around eight or nine," remembers Peter.

"Today we get between 70 or 80 every year. In 2008, our busiest ever year, we had 100."

The team, originally a Civil Defence mountain rescue, was formed by Merthyr Tydfil policeman and World War II veteran Jack Powell who persuaded fellow officers and mountaineers to join.

At the time the only other mountain rescue teams in Wales were an RAF team at St Athan and a volunteer team in North Wales.

Until mobile phones became common in the late 1990s rescuers found their way to call outs with maps, compasses and verbal reports - usually after someone had trekked to a phone box or house and dialled 999.

"People had to come from the site of an incident to a phone box. It all took longer. Mobile phones are potentially life saving," Peter says.

"The team got its first pagers in 1990 and by 1994 all members had one, before that a cascade of phone calls were used to reach people.

"Things have changed so much.

"If someone calls from a smart phone we can send them an app and locate them within 10 yards.

"I could only have imagined that happening from a space ship in 1964!" Over the years he has seen hundreds rescued, welcomed


| From clockwise; Jack Powell, MBE, founding team leader of Central Brecon Mountain Rescue Team; The team in 1968; Prince William taking part in a training exercise in Merthyr Tydfil; Peter Howells, an original member of the team who joined aged 17; and team leader, Penny Brockman, middle, during an exercise in 1991
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 24, 2013
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