Bristow’s Jamie Pattison witnesses human resilience after devastating Moroccan tragedy

On 8 September Bristow’s Jamie Pattison was preparing for a night out with friends in Aberdeen, Scotland.

But as news broke of a devastating earthquake in Morocco his plans suddenly, and dramatically, changed.

Instead of sitting down to dinner Pattison buckled himself into a seat on a military transport aircraft, en-route to the scene of one of the worst natural disasters in the country for 60 years. 

Bristow Winch-Paramedic Jamie Pattison was selected to join the UK International Search and Rescue Medical Team almost one year ago. 

The team combines some of the best Search and Rescue specialists from Fire Services across the UK, and, as a medical specialist, Pattison is tasked with responding alongside them to ensure they stay well and to provide urgent care at the scene, when necessary.

“The UK ISAR team boasts some of the most skilled and experienced SAR experts in the world,” says Pattison. “So it’s a massive privilege and responsibility to work with them.”

The UK ISAR team stands ready to respond to emergencies anywhere in the world and, in line with United Nations guidelines, is ready to deploy to an affected country within 10 hours of an official request for assistance.

“Bristow understands the role the team plays internationally,” said Pattison. “I’m enormously grateful for Bristow's support in allowing me the time to be a part of it. 

“When reports started coming in from Morocco I knew there was a strong chance of being called up to attend, and as soon as I got the shout I made the apologies to my friends and set off.” 

With his grab-bag of essential kit in hand Pattison reported to RAF Brize Norton and soon found himself on-board an Atlas A400 with the rest of the UK ISAR team, bound for Marrakesh. 

“The news from Morocco was grim. Reports of huge devastation and major loss of life were coming through, so we were all braced for the worst.”

A brief welcome from the UK Ambassador in Marrakesh was followed by a long drive to the team’s operations base near the epicentre of the earthquake. 

“My first impression was how well organised things were, despite the absolute devastation all around. The Moroccan authorities had swung immediately into action and the rescue effort was well underway. But the reality for thousands of people was desperate. Entire villages wiped out, thousands injured and homeless with countless people missing.”

Pattison's team was tasked by the United Nations Coordination Centre to Imi N'Tala, a village high up in the Atlas Mountains.

“The situation at Imi N'Tala was tragic,” said Pattison. “The traditional building materials typical in the area – mostly clay bricks and wood - meant that there were very few voids in the collapsed buildings where people might survive. The loss of life was terrible.” 

And the danger wasn't over either, as Pattison and his team were caught in some powerful aftershocks which were captured on video and broadcast on the BBC.

Morocco earthquake: Watch aftershocks send rescue teams running - BBC News

Pattison spent ten days in Morocco helping the UK ISAR team search the area for survivors and attend to the injured.                                                     

“The whole experience left a huge impression on me. What really struck home was the incredible resilience and spirit of the locals. These were people who had lost almost everything – friends, family, homes. But they remained strong and resolute and worked day and night to help each other and to rebuild their lives and communities.

“UK ISAR is, by its nature, a short-term response team and, after ten days in-country we were stood down. But the work to rebuild will go on for years, and the loss felt by people and communities there will never be forgotten.

“I feel privileged to have been able to play just a small part in the response to this tragedy and I want to thank my manager and Bristow for allowing me to deploy and contribute to the relief effort.”