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Meet the volunteers who go out at all hours to help in the hunt for Suffolk’s missing people

PUBLISHED: 07:00 12 January 2019 | UPDATED: 08:41 14 January 2019

Andy King, Chairman of Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue (SULSAR) with volunteers outside their new headquarters Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

Andy King, Chairman of Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue (SULSAR) with volunteers outside their new headquarters Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

Archant

The role of Suffolk’s volunteer search and rescue team can be unpleasant at times, but their role is proving invaluable in helping find those who have gone missing across the county.

Andy King is chairman of Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue (SULSAR), which has just celebrated its 20th anniversary.

“There’s no glory in it,” said the straight-talking chairman. “We had a find a few weeks ago and it has affected some of the team, and we are looking after them.

“But we always say it’s better that we find them than a child out playing or a dog walker, at least we’re expecting to find them.”

The organisation, which is a member unit of the UK’s Lowland Rescue service, is 100% voluntary and receives no government or emergency services funding.

Andy King, Chairman of Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue (SULSAR) Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYAndy King, Chairman of Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue (SULSAR) Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

The team’s volunteers, having just marked their milestone anniversary, now have something else to celebrate - moving into new premises behind the Stag Café at Haughley, near Stowmarket, which will enable them to mobilise at a moment’s notice.

When seconds count in missing person searches, the new building – which has been donated – will play a vital part in the team’s work.

“The fact that people have donated so much money and so much time to give us a building has been absolutely amazing. We’re not used to it,” said Andy, 56, who is a senior project manager.

“I have to mention TMJ [Taylor Made Joinery] and Glenn Lebbon because without them we wouldn’t have a building.”

One of the early searches for Corrie McKeague at Barton Mills. Andy King (Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue) talking with Nicola Urquhart Picture: PHIL MORLEYOne of the early searches for Corrie McKeague at Barton Mills. Andy King (Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue) talking with Nicola Urquhart Picture: PHIL MORLEY

He added: “I didn’t think in this day and age people did that sort of thing. But I can put it into context now because Glenn [Lebbon] who owns the land that our new building is on said, ‘Why are you so surprised? You go out at 3am in the morning looking for people you don’t know’. I never really looked at it like that.”

The charity’s profile has been raised by its involvement in the search for missing serviceman Corrie McKeague. Volunteers from SULSAR were out looking for the RAF Honington gunner in the initial stages of the investigation.

The exposure has brought new volunteers to the charity but has also meant more money was needed to fund the group’s work.

“We’re 100% voluntary, no-one takes anything from the organisation,” Andy said. “Because of the size of the team now, we’ve had to get good at fundraising.

SULSAR's search and rescue vehicle can now be locked away at its new headquarters Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYSULSAR's search and rescue vehicle can now be locked away at its new headquarters Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

“Pre-Corrie, I could run the team on £1,500 a year with change. But now because of the numbers we’ve got – we’re nearly up to 100 members now – our financial requirements have gone from £1,500 to somewhere around £10,000.

“So we’ve had to go out and handshake and raise funds, but having said that we have been incredibly lucky in the last few years when we’ve been in a Corrie bubble if you like, when we’ve had some large donations.”

Andy said he would be discussing the possibility of any further searches for Corrie with Nicola Urquhart – the missing airman’s mother.

“I’ve analysed all the mapping that the police gave to Nicola with all the possible sightings on it and Nicola and I need to sit down and have a discussion on it,” he said.

Zak Twinn and Jo Leach, friends of Corrie McKeague's family raised £3,000 for SULSAR. Front L-R: Zak Twinn, Andy King (SULSAR), Jo Leach and Nicola Urquhart 
Picture: PHIL MORLEYZak Twinn and Jo Leach, friends of Corrie McKeague's family raised £3,000 for SULSAR. Front L-R: Zak Twinn, Andy King (SULSAR), Jo Leach and Nicola Urquhart Picture: PHIL MORLEY

“Nothing is standing out from what I’ve been shown that there is an area which has been missed but if new evidence or information comes to light then we will be there by her side to go out and search.”

The determination to give families closure drives the team to continue its work and this was reinforced after a meeting with a family last year.

“I had the privilege of meeting the wife of somebody I found, I can’t say I was looking forward to it because I wasn’t,” Andy said. “It was the first time I had met with the family of a missing person we had found deceased.

“But it was good for me and I went along with a couple of other team members and it was good for us to hear that we had given them closure.

One of the early searches for Corrie McKeague at Barton Mills. Andy King (Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue) talking with Nicola Urquhart Picture: PHIL MORLEYOne of the early searches for Corrie McKeague at Barton Mills. Andy King (Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue) talking with Nicola Urquhart Picture: PHIL MORLEY

“If you asked Nicola [Urquhart] if she’d like the same option then I’m sure her answer would be yes.

“We’ve always sold that to the team about what we do giving families closure but to actually hear it from a wife of someone we’d found was really quite enlightening.”

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