Outliers and Misfits: Search and Rescue

Image by Walt Stoneburner. Some Rights Reserved. CC BY 2.0.

Outliers and Misfits is a collection of stand-alone flash-fictions all set in the same universe, a universe where there’s no such thing as normal …

Kelsey McCLellan: Obituary

Kelsey McCLellan, who died at the age of 47 while on a mission in Scotland, was probably the most loved and respected member of the international Search and Rescue community.

Having lost both her parents at a young age, Kelsey moved to Wales to live with her grandmother. After an unsettled start at secondary school, she took up climbing, and by the age of thirteen, to the surprise of everyone who knew her, she had earned a Golden Karabiner and been invited to join the International Rock Climbing Federation. Over the next three years, Kelsey won medals for Great Britain in the IRCF Championships, and, in the year that she gained twelve GCSEs, she also successfully lobbied for climbing to be included in the next Olympic Games.

Even with all of Kelsey’s sporting achievements, it wasn’t until she was seventeen that she entered the awareness of the general public. When a family became lost in extensive hill fog on Mount Snowdon, Kelsey led a group of volunteers up the mountain in near-zero visibility, locating the family – which included two children under the age of five – in less than an hour. That year, she was honoured for outstanding courage at the Britain’s Pride Awards.

After leaving school with A-Levels in Geography, Physical Education and Human Biology, she moved to Cardiff and joined the city’s police force. Following an exemplary four years on the beat, she was promoted to the Missing Persons Unit, where her case clearance rate was “second to none”. During this time, Kelsey’s love for climbing had to take a backseat, but after twelve years, she decided to combine her two passions and joined Search and Rescue UK, where she quickly earned a reputation for having “unbelievably unerring instincts” and a “whatever it takes attitude”.

During her seventeen years at Search and Rescue UK, Kelsey’s instincts and attitude took her on missions all over the world. She found people who had wandered off the Machu Picchu trail; she found more than one group of school children whose boats had capsized while white-water rafting in Austria, and she found airliners that had gone missing over mountain ranges in Canada, America and Nepal. Most famously, she located the whereabouts of the Atlas IV reentry capsule after it was lost by NASA. This January, Kelsey was recognised in the New Year’s Honours list, but sadly did not live to receive The Queen’s Commendation for Bravery.

When news of Kelsey’s tragic death was announced, tributes poured in from around the world. Among the most poignant, were the words of Jeanette Harrow, mother of one of the schoolboys saved by Kelsey on her last and fatal mission. She said, “if it wasn’t for her, my son wouldn’t be alive today. Words can’t express how grateful we are. She was a true hero.”

Kelsey did not marry and had no children. Her funeral was held outdoors at the foot of Mount Snowden. Nearly ten thousand people were in attendance.

(This story first appeared on Ether Books.)

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9 thoughts on “Outliers and Misfits: Search and Rescue

    1. I might have to write one some day … 🙂

      (I’ve checked the spelling and have found Carabiner, Carabina, Karabiner and Karabina in use. My dictionary says ‘Karabiner’ so I’ll correct it to that. Thanks for the catch! 🙂 )

  1. An obituary is an interesting lens through which to look at a character. I was deeply intrigued by how she was able to find everyone so quickly, but I undertand an obit wouldn’t necessarily be able to explain it. Certainly an interesting read!

    1. That is pretty standard of an obituary. People want to know who survived the dead. What I find interesting about it though is how pedestrian it feels after all the other achievements. It brings her back to a standing with other less lofty people. And of course it shows the sacrifices she made to achieve the things she did.

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