HOWLING wind and rain rattle the windows as the piercing sound of a phone going off rouses them from sleep.
Groggily, they roll over in their bed and pick up the phone, wiping the sleep from their eyes: ‘2.20am’ it says on the screen.
A text gives only a few scarce details. It’s a callout somewhere in the county to find a missing person. Without hesitation they respond, saying they’re on their way.
With a glance at the gale outside and their loved one laying in bed still sound asleep, the volunteer gets up, grabs their search and rescue gear and leaves.
Driving for 45 minutes towards a woodland somewhere in Hampshire another text comes through.
It’s a stand down message by police. The search has been called off before they arrive at the rendezvous location.
Arriving home just before 4am, the volunteer gets back into bed, knowing they have to wake up for work in a few short hours.
This is just one of the scenarios members of Hampshire Search and Rescue have to deal with week in, week out, in their selfless quest to find and save missing people.
‘I never go out hoping we get stood down,’ says Trevor Vidler, vice chairman of the charity. ‘But it does happen.
‘We will go out in whatever the weather, whatever time of day and year, to help someone in need.
‘It’s something we all do, not for medals or praise, but because we want to help our communities and to give something back.’
Hampshire Search and Rescue was set up 2003 and has this week marked its 600th callout.
On average, the team is called out once a week across Hampshire, supporting police in searching for vulnerable missing people – ‘mispers’, as they’re known.
In 2017, the squad was dispatched 54 times, with volunteers spending a total of 3,300 hours searching.
The year before it was even higher, with 62 calls and a staggering 3,700 spent by search and rescue technicians on operations.
‘We cover the whole county, from hills to high water, urban areas, rural areas, 24/7, 365 days a year,’ explains Trevor, who has volunteered with the group for three years.
‘Sometimes there’s a traumatic find, sometimes it’s a good find – other times it’s no find at all.’
The team provides a vital service for a stretched and under-funded Hampshire Constabulary, which deploys the squad on searches.
Sergeant James Wilkinson is from the county’s specialist search unit and says the work by the volunteers was invaluable.
‘Hampshire Search and Rescue have been working alongside us for around 13 years providing invaluable search resources when looking for high risk missing people,’ he says.
‘On average they work with us around 50 times a year – so almost once a week – to provide a dedicated team of people to manage the search in conjunction with the police search advisor.
‘In addition to the support they provide to police, we recognise the effort they put in to their training and fundraising.’
All team members are trained to a national standard and are able to integrate with any of the other 34 lowland search and rescue teams across the nation.
Often they can assist in searches led by groups in neighbouring counties, as well as hunts nationally. But it is an ongoing struggle to fund the charity, which needs about £24,000 to pay for uniforms and equipment – which includes vehicles and hi-tech drones to assist in hunts.
Volunteers don’t take any pay and aren’t reimbursed for their travel expenses.
‘Mountain rescue get millions of pounds from the government,’ adds 70-year-old Trevor, of Chandler’s Ford. ‘They look for people who chose to be out there.
‘We get no money or funding and are looking for people who sometimes don’t even know they’re lost.’
The team is also battling to raise its profile with the public and police.
‘Not everyone knows we exist, even some people in the police,’ says Trevor, a retired captain in the army. ‘When someone goes missing it can be a very traumatic time for those nearest and dearest to them.
‘I’d like them to know we are out there searching. I’d hope it would alleviate some of that stress when someone goes missing to know there are people out there looking for their loved ones.’
Recruits are drawn from all over the county, with many coming from Portsmouth, Fareham, Gosport and Havant.
At the moment there are 71 qualified search technicians available, with a further 15 under training.
The most common callouts are to find those missing with dementia, depression or who are reportedly feeling suicidal.
The group is eager for more supporters to donate towards it. In particular, it is looking for businesses to sponsor the organisation.
n To help, see hantsar.org
Volunteers from Hampshire Search and Rescue will be in attendance at the 999 day in Fareham today.