Press Release for Dog Rescue Incident 14th November, 2017

 Overview

In order to clear up some of the confusion that has resulted from this distressing incident, the team would like to issue the following report to clarify some of the facts.  There have been many comments that appear to show a complete lack of understanding of the very real risks involved in getting near to where Tilly was trapped. 

The rift was 8-10 inches wide and approximately 8m deep.   (To put this into perspective 8 inches is a little less than the height of two coke cans stacked together)  There was approximately 100kg of loose rubble, rocks and soil hanging precariously over the entrance. Below this the walls were smooth solid rock on both sides that were too narrow for a person to climb or manoeuvre themselves.  The only way to descend and ascend was to be lowered and hauled by the surface team.

South Wales Fire & Rescue Service had been on scene since Monday 13th November and had tried a number of attempts to access Tilly.  SWFRS were able to deploy a specialist camera on a pole into the rift and identified the location of Tilly.  Despite numerous attempts to access Tilly using poles, ropes and hooks they were unsuccessful due to the confines of the passage and the extremely dangerous and unstable nature of the terrain.  The last attempt using a camera at approximately 15:30 on Tuesday showed that Tilly was no longer moving.

Timeline

At 15:39 on Tuesday the 14th November South Wales Fire & Rescue Service formally handed over the incident to South & Mid Wales Cave Rescue as they had exhausted all of their options.   SMWCRT deployed a team onto the hillside and further team members attended the incident into the evening.

At approximately 18:00 a SMWCRT team member was lowered 6m into the rift but was unable to descend any further as the passage narrowed to a width where further movement from this angle was impossible.  She spent approximately 20 minutes getting into this position before being hauled back to the surface, for a new approach.  From the lowest point reached, laboured breathing could be heard. 

In order to get beyond this first constriction the surface team re-rigged the ropes allowing a different access angle and at approximately 19:00 the same SMWCRT team member again descended into the rift with little regard for her own safety.  This time the constriction was passed and a depth of approximately 7-8m was reached.  At this point the rift narrowed to a point where it was physically impossible to proceed any further.  The Team Member who was in the rift was not able to breathe fully as her chest and back were constricted by the solid rock walls, and only had limited movement in one arm.  She was unable to rotate her head as it was held in place on either side by the solid rock walls.  A steady stream of small rocks and dirt was falling from the overhanging soil and rubble above.

It was attempted to encourage Tilly to move towards our Team Member by calling, offering food, encouragement and attempting to reach her with poles and hooks. After 20 minutes of our Team Member being in a very difficult and dangerous location, getting no response what so ever from Tilly, it was decided that the risk to human life was too great to continue and with heavy hearts we hauled our Team Member to the surface. The hauls were the most dangerous parts of the operation and the team was very emotional upon being reunited on the surface.

Answers to questions & comments

·        It was not possible to remove the overhanging surface soil & rubble further without risking complete collapse of the passage.

·        The rift that Tilly had fallen into was approximately 30 minutes on foot from the nearest road up a very steep mountainside.

·        Conditions on the night were wet, windy and cold. 

·        It was not possible to dig through the 8- 10m of solid rock from the surface.

·        It was not possible to remove the constriction in the rift due to the confines of the passage restricting movement and making digging impossible.

·        It was not possible to reach any further with poles or hooks from the lowest point reached due to the extreme angles and the constrictions in place.

·        It was not possible to descend any further into the rift due to it becoming smaller than any human could pass through. Unfortunately a small terrier can fall into a rock cavity that no human rescuer can ever hope to access.

·        SWFRS deployed a specialist USAR team who had extremely specialist equipment normally used to rescue people from earthquake damaged buildings.  They were unable to get to Tilly due to the confines of the site.

·        South & Mid Wales Cave Rescue is a voluntary organisation which has been serving South Wales for over 70 years.  Our Team Members are volunteers from all walks of life who give up time and resources without any expectation of compensation or reward to help fellow humans and animals.  Numerous members are dog owners and would never make the decision to leave an animal if there was any possibility of a successful rescue.

·        In total the team members were responding to this incident for 11 hours from the point they were called out by SWFRS to the point they returned to base and stood down.

 

Statements

“I have over 20 years operational experience and this is the first Rescue I have had to walk away from, however I know that this was the right call”  SWFRS Member

”I've been involved in cave rescue in South Wales for over 20years.  We've saved many 10s of lives, both human and animal. Normally these rescues involve a massive team effort.  I have only ever seen two cases of extreme personal bravery.  Both were dog rescues from these dangerous fissures, caused as mountain sides settle or start to slip in some way.  One was on 23rd May 2006 in the Rhondda Valley; the other was on Tuesday night.”  SMWCRT Team Member

 

Closing Comments

·        The team has an incident review process and aims to learn from all rescues.

·        We will not be commenting any further on this issue.

·        SMWCRT have been in regular contact with Tillys’ Owners and they are fully aware of the situation.  They are planning to meet with SMWCRT team members in the near future.

·        Attached below is an illustration of the rift along with some images that hopefully clarify the incident.  The illustration is approximately to scale. 

 

Our sincerest thanks go out to:

·        The SMWCRT team who deployed to this bleak hillside and especially to the brave Team Member who twice descended into such a dangerous rift.

·        SWFRS who worked for many hours in inhospitable conditions and provided logistical support to this incident.

·        The local community whose spirit was indescribable with the offer of food, supplies and help as well as the invaluable local knowledge.

·        The local caving community who offered support and resources.

·        The RSPCA for the kind offer of equipment.