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Teenager with Caithness roots becomes one of Scotland's youngest mountain rescuers

By Mike Merritt

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Matthew Knapman.
Matthew Knapman.

Having climbed Africa's highest mountain when he was only 16, a Highland teenager has been inspired to become one of the youngest mountain rescuers in the country.

And now aged 17, Matthew Knapman last week carried out his first mountain rescues with Assynt Mountain Rescue Team.

The team consists of 35 volunteers covering the single largest MRT area in Scotland – some 770,000 hectares incorporating the whole of Caithness, Sutherland and part of Ross-shire.

Now joining them is Matthew, who is in his sixth year studies at Inverness Royal Academy having moved from Thurso High School in 2020.

He attended his first callout last Sunday to assist an 83-year-old struggling walker who had become benighted in the Inverkirkaig Falls area.

This was followed up on Wednesday when he helped conduct a search at John O’Groats for a missing person.

Matthew said: "It’s great to be able to put the skills that we’ve been learning into practice to help those missing or in difficulty. I’m lucky being able to respond to callouts while balancing school, but that will change in the next few weeks with my pending exams.

"School have been supportive of me joining the team and understand that I have to balance my education with the callout requests – I don’t necessarily respond to all the callouts, depending on my timetable.

Matthew Knapman with other members of Assynt MRT during a search at John O'Groats.
Matthew Knapman with other members of Assynt MRT during a search at John O'Groats.

"Both Thurso High School and Inverness Royal Academy have fostered outdoor education and I’ve expanded on this hugely in recent years, including climbing Mount Kilimajaro (19,341 feet high) when I was 16. The team is a great family for supporting each other, getting outdoors and helping those in need when they’re having a really bad day.”

Assynt MRT team leader, Tim Hamlet, said:“Responding to callouts is our core volunteer team output and it’s great that probationers like Matthew can take the skills that they come to the team with, build further skills and apply them in real time to dynamic situations.

"The callout on Sunday to Inverkirkaig had a great outcome with minimal team support required on scene, and the multi-agency search on Wednesday at John O’Groats at the request of Police Scotland was completed as per tasking with nothing found. We are grateful for the support of our local communities to help us continue to provide our volunteer service 24/7 in any weather”.

On an annual basis a new intake of volunteer probationary team members are assessed for three months and those suitable are invited to join the team as probationary team members for a further 12 months to complete sufficient training to become full team members. This year an initial sift to 10 applicants has seen six be invited to become probationary team members who started enthusiastically in February.

Tasked by Police Scotland, typical callouts include searches for missing/lost persons and evacuation of injured persons from remote locations to hospital care. All MRT personnel are qualified as a minimum in advanced first aid, with 10 qualified to Emergency Medical Technician standard and one Emergency Medicine Doctor. In order to provide the ability to respond to callouts across the huge area, the team have two fully equipped 4x4 ambulances – one at Inchnadamph and another in Thurso.

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