A Review of using a Jet Suit in Mountain Rescue.

Is there a need for Jet speed in Mountain Rescue?

This largely depends on the nature of the mountain incident. There are several injuries and medical conditions that can occur in upland or inaccessible areas – many do require urgent attention. Examples of time-critical cases for Mountain Rescuers include: cardiac issues; low blood sugar; penetrating trauma; severe blood loss; complex breaks and fractures; head injuries; hyperthermia; anaphylaxis and crush injuries.

For the under 40’s in England, trauma remains the most common cause of death. The National Audit Office estimates that there are 20,000 major trauma incidents annually with over 5000 deaths. Scottish Mountain rescue reported that 46% of reported injuries were skeletal fractures.

How important is speedy, on-scene paramedic intervention?

A fast on-scene medical response for major trauma injuries reduces mortality rates. The Medical University Centre, Lubbock, researched 288 severe trauma injuries and found that a 10 minute on-scene response time by a paramedic, led to only a 3.9% mortality rate while a 60 minute on-scene response increased it by over 5% to 9.8% (Pham, 2015). Research demonstrates the importance of getting a paramedic to casualties as quickly as possible. Every minute of delay reduces the chances of survival.

The Golden Hour of Emergency Rescue.

When casualties are away from the roadside in mountainous, upland or difficult to access environments significant time delays in on-scene medical response occur. Where a casualty has an injury that needs an urgent medical diagnosis and intervention, failure to act quickly can result in increased suffering, damage or death.

In the crucial window of time known by paramedics as the ‘Golden Hour’, early intervention by paramedics can stabilise a casualty keeping them alive en-route to hospital for specialist care. Time really does matter in severe trauma cases which can see outcomes significantly decline every few minutes. If casualties are treated by a medical professional in the early stages of trauma, they are often able to prevent rapid decline.

Richard Browning in search and rescue Flight

How important is speed in Mountain Rescue?

Paramedics and Mountain Rescue teams know that fast medical responses reduce mortality. They consider every avenue to increase paramedic response times and have streamlined call out systems with fast response times. Use of vehicles such as 4×4, scramble bikes or quad bikes have been adopted by Mountain Rescue teams and are very effective in increasing response times in mountainous terrain.

Using the Jet Suit In Mountain Rescue

The Jet Suit in Mountain Rescue is a new mode of flight to be considered in parallel with Air Ambulances. Gravity Industries have been working with Mountain Rescue and Air Ambulance teams across England since March 2020. The Jet Suit has an outstanding ability to fly quickly to a casualty over difficult terrain. It has a similar capability to a helicopter; however, it packs down into a suitcase that can be stored in a vehicle. It flies close to the ground at speed.

Gravity Industries videos enable the general public to watch the Jet Suit in a range of different scenarios. However, Jet suits really do have a down-to-earth application for medical emergencies. The Jet Suit is relativity small, light weight and training can be completed by a co-ordinated paramedic within a week. As with all rescue resources the Jet Suit would make up part of an arsenal of options which can be deployed by rescue controllers in tandem with traditional methods.

What is the Jet Suit capable of?

Gravity Industries are continually evolving the capability of the Jet Suit. They are concentrating on low level flying around 3 metres off the ground. Below is a summary of the Jet Suits capabilities (4/10/21) however the range is dependant on the amount of fuel carried and the weight of the pilot and therefore could be increased.

  • It is capable of speeds above 60 mph with a range over 3 kilometres in steep mountainous terrain.
  • The pilot can ascend and descend mountain slopes at speed
  • The pilot can travel over water, scree, trees and dense vegetation
  • Pilots have full control of direction, height, and speed.
  • The pilot can communicate with the team on the ground via radio while in flight.
  • The suit can operate in windy conditions.

These attributes enable a Jet Suit pilot to be hugely effective in covering difficult ground.


Summary The Jet Suit capabilities have great potential for emergency services and rescue teams. Air ambulances still have a fundamental role in Mountain Rescue. A combined approach of Jet Suits, Air ambulance, Rescue Team vehicles and on foot travel is still envisaged. Team leaders will need to decide on the best approach for the situation. The suit brings a fresh aviation solution to the recognised benefit of fast critical care. The testing carried out by Gravity Industries demonstrates it saves time in a range of hostile mountain environments.  

With an experienced paramedic piloting the Jet Suit in Mountain Rescue situation, in many scenarios critical care will arrive faster and therefore save lives. Further development and testing is actively underway in preparation for the first live mountain rescue flight.

Written by Jonathan Evans (MCI, BSc, QTLS )

Jonathan has been working with Mountain Rescue teams since 2007 and is currently a member of Devon Cave Rescue Organisation. During 2021 he brought together an exercise with Gravity Industries and North Dartmoor Search and Rescue team culminating in a joint rescue exercise. He is a Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor and Qualified Teacher. He was the Centre Director of Heatree Activty Centre on Dartmoor and is now the Director of iQualifi – Health & Safety training specialists. www.iqualifi.co.uk

References

Pham et al (2015) https://tsaco.bmj.com/content/2/1/e000122  Accessed 1/10/21

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_ambulances_in_the_United_Kingdom

Photography by Emily Fleur https://emilyfleurphotography.com/

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