A SEARCH dog and his handler from Rossendale helped with the rescue mission after an avalanche which killed three people in Scotland.

Stephen Garofalo, a member of Rossendale and Pendle Mountain Rescue Team, and his intrepid smooth collie Finn were helicoptered onto a mountain in the Cairngorns to seek out climbers after a massive snowslide.

Mr Garofalo and his five-year-old companion had been on an avalanche training course not far away when the disaster struck and the RAF called on them for support.

The pair got a lift there from a wildlife group researching pine martens and arrived to help the Cairngorm and RAF Lossiemouth mountain rescue teams.

Mr Garofalo said: “Finn can scent a person buried under more than six feet of snow, something which is utterly impossible for a human because we rely on sight. The dogs are invaluable to us and they love being a part of the team.”

Finn specialises in finding people who are sitting or lying down which is why they were the third team airlifted to the scene.

Mr Garofalo said: “We are always hoping to find victims who are alive and uninjured but sadly it’s not always the case.”

A dozen people were on the slope when disaster struck. Nine escaped with their lives but three died.

Search dogs must show 90 per cent reliability before they will be graded and taken out on missions, and Finn earned his stripes in October.

Before the avalanche struck on Thursday, the pair were doing further training in the snow with the Search and Rescue Dogs Association.

The dogs were learning to locate a person in a 3ft wide igloo structure, beneath a 6ft deep shaft, covered by 18 inches of snow.

When the dog believes he has location of a person, he is trained to bark and begin digging on command, initially in reward for a treat.

Mr Garofalo said: “Some of the dogs get sausages and all sorts thrown down to them but Finn prefers dog toys, he’s very playful.

“He’s quite a pampered dog, he sleeps in a bed on the floor beside mine. I love dogs.

“We go all over the place together, especially now he’s part of the team.

“You get called all over the country because they are so good at the job.”