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Veteran Dartmoor rescue volunteer retires after 30 years

By This is SouthDevon  |  Posted: December 06, 2012

Rob Illman

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VETERAN Dartmoor rescue volunteer Rob Illman has retired from the team after 30 years.

He signed up with the relatively new Ashburton section of the Dartmoor Rescue Group in October 1982.

The intervening years have brought him 15 years as team leader, two jubilee medals, 23 Ten Tors challenge events and 433 callouts.

Craig Scollick, Hill Party Leader for the team, said: "I have been struck by the high regard in which Rob has been held, not only in our team but also in the others across Dartmoor, Exmoor and by Devon and Cornwall Police.

"Through a love of walking and letterboxing on Dartmoor, Rob and a couple of friends thought they’d give something back and joined Dartmoor Rescue team.

"Rob's longest rescue was a winter callout in his early days with the team when a Duke of Edinburgh Award group got lost on a snowy night.

"After around 12 hours the group were found by the rescue team and it was down to bringing in a Wessex helicopter to airlift them out.

"After numerous false starts and hanging around in sub-zero temperatures the group and the rescue team were flown out.

"Afterwards Rob’s Hill Party Leader asked him why he had kept ferrying people and kit between the casualty site and the helicopter.

"Rob’s response was that the warmest place on Dartmoor that night was under the exhaust of a Wessex!

"One of his most memorable Ten Tors challenge events was in 1994 when the May weather turned wintery and eight inches of snow fell on Dartmoor stranding the 2,400 teenage participants.

"The Army organise and marshal the event, with Dartmoor Rescue Group bringing off injured participants, calling in air support or searching for lost groups.

"On this occasion a major rescue operation had to be mounted to bring the teenagers safely off the moor. As Ashburton’s Deputy Team Leader, Rob was in the thick of managing and coordinating a major part of the rescue activities, which at the time made the national press.

"As for his worst rescue, Robs says that any one when the casualty has died has always been difficult, especially for the casualty’s families and friends."

Rob said his most satisfying moment came in the autumn of 2011 when after 35 years, Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team (Ashburton) finally got a permanent home courtesy of the monks of Buckfast Abbey, for the building, and hundreds of hours of effort by Rob and other team members for the fit out.

Richard Walker, Chairman and Hill Party Leader, DSRT Ashburton, said: "Whilst many people give a large chunk of their time to MR, few give up so much, for so long as Rob Illman. His energy and commitment has been no small contributor to making our team strong,

confident, and fit for the task. However this isn’t really why we’ll miss him.

"As Team Leader for many

years, Rob has embodied our ethos and set our values. He is a strong and sometimes outspoken man,

but is always motivated by the welfare of others. He is a deeply principled and caring. It is rare to find

someone who can intuitively balance the goals of a task against the needs of individuals in a team

with such finesse or kindness. I think we all feel honoured to call him our friend and colleague. This is

why we’ll miss him on the hill’.

Kelvin Bull, Deputy Search Manager and Hill Party Leader, added: "I was always impressed with Rob’s ability to be a least one step ahead. As a Search Manager Rob was like a chess player, he was always thinking about the next move and the next action to take. When out on the hill as a Hill Party Leader there was always something reassuring when you heard Rob’s voice on the radio as you always know that he had a plan. Rob was always your friend but he also knew when he needed to be your boss’.

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