IT’S pitch black. The only sound comes from the gentle patter of rain on leaf mulch.

Dancing flashlights suddenly begin to peek through drenched vegetation. It’s the first four members of a Wiltshire Search and Rescue team hunting for a missing cyclist in woods between Calne and Melksham.

Except it’s not a missing cyclist. It’s the man in charge of Wiltshire Police – the organisation responsible for tasking WILSAR to incidents.

His face slick with blood, Chief Constable Kier Pritchard groans in feigned pain as the first red-jacketed rescuers reach him.

It’s a Wednesday, a training night for Wiltshire Search and Rescue. The lowland rescue charity has 77 volunteers, men and women ranging from their 20s to pensionable age.

None of those who pull on the branded waterproof jackets are paid to be here. They give up their time to look for those in need.

Last year, Wiltshire Search and Rescue was called out to 72 incidents. That’s the equivalent to 1.4 call outs a week – or six a month.

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They can range from short shouts with the team stood down within hours to exhausting searches lasting days. Since the charity was formed in 2000, it’s estimated its volunteers have given 100,000 man hours.

Volunteer of three years Sarah Wolf said: “We are called out more than we ever have been.” That could be a result of closer working relationships with Wiltshire Police’s control room inspectors, resulting in officers being readier to push the call out button than they ever have been in the past.

But it could be that more people are going missing – a consequence of an ageing population and more people struggling with poor mental health.

Adrian Sawyer is the man responsible for setting up many of the training scenarios – including tonight’s rain-soaked venture. He said there had been a significant increase in the number of call-outs to people feared to have taken their own lives.

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When he joined WILSAR in 2011 aged just 19, around a third of the charity’s calls was to suicidal missing people, a third to dementia sufferers and a third to other calls – including flooding.

Now, shouts linked to mental health forms a bigger bulk of the charity’s bread-and-butter.

The volunteers train religiously, practising skills ranging from first aid to radio communications.

“Pretty much all of them are based on previous call outs either that we’ve had in Wiltshire or elsewhere in the country. This one was a real call out for us,” said Adrian.

Mr Pritchard, taking the role of 'Harry', has come off his mountain bike on a woodland trail. His partner has called him in as missing. She knows roughly where he is and there’s a suggestion mobile phone data has narrowed down the search area.

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Harry is in a bad way, though. It’s cold, wet, he’s got a traumatic injury to his shoulder and his face his covered in blood.

When they get to him the rescuers start by checking him for injuries, noting his vital signs and covering him with a blanket in an effort to warm him up. A radio operator relays information to the WILSAR control van and another volunteer sets up red lights along the path to guide other rescuers to the group.

Another set of rescuers arrive, pulling an orange stretcher along like a sled. 'Harry' is rolled into a sleeping bag-like object, which is inflated in order to immobile him.

He’s put in the stretcher and dragged through the woods back to the control van.

There’s some surprise as the casualty is revealed to be the Chief Constable.

As the teams are debriefed, Mr Pritchard praises the volunteers’ efforts, saying: “It was like being pulled on a sleigh.”

He told the Adver: “I have nothing but the utmost respect for the volunteers who are prepared to help Wiltshire Police at times of crisis.

"That stretches from special constables, police cadets and now several hundred 'mini police' right through to these guys in Wiltshire Search and Rescue who don’t just volunteer but put their lives on hold when they need to – and that could be at 2am when most people are fast asleep.”

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Photos from the exercise