Report on the Training Exercise

Dinas Silica Mine, Pontneddfechan

Saturday 23 September 2017

This was the rescheduled mid-Wales, summer mine rescue practice. Rather later in the summer and a venue somewhat south of the conventional metal mining, ore field of mid-Wales. Nonetheless, the practice attracted 25 rescuers from SMWCRT and neighbouring rescue teams: North Wales CRO, Gloucester CRG, Midlands CRO, SECRO, Brynmawr Caving Club, CHD - Cardiff University Caving Club and ACC.

SMWCRT is grateful to Steffan Davies for previously gaining consent from folk at Brecon Beacons National Park Authority and Natural Resources Wales, to access the Country Park for the purpose of the practice. We are also grateful to Roy Fellows for his enthusiastic support on behalf of Natural Amenities Ltd., permitting us to hold the rescue exercise in the underground workings of Dinas mine and for attending in person on the day! Gratitude is extended to Gary Evans for prior visits to the mine to identify hazardous areas and mark them onto the most recent mine survey (G.J. Christian, 1987). Also, to Sue Goodhead, for producing high quality print-outs of the revised mine survey. Prior to the training event, Gary Evans and Vince Allkins developed a scenario for the day and completed a hazard assessment, during which the most unstable areas of the upper workings were marked off with tape, to indicate exclusion from access and search during the exercise.

Extremely fine weather provided a welcome start for the day as all arrived and parked in a designated section of the visitor car park. Roy Fellows initiated the exercise with a history of the mine and value of the mined silica. He described the extent of surface buildings and transport infra-structure and the nature of the underground pillar and stall mine workings used to extract the silica within quite a steep incline. The dumping of masonry down selected portals after partial demolition of selected surface buildings helped to explain the hazards of loose rubble identified in some sections of the higher-level mine workings.

After a welcome and general description of the objective of the mine rescue exercise given by Peter Dennis, Gary Evans explained the detailed scenario and organised the gathered rescuers into surface and underground roles, and also identified four volunteers to serve as casualties for the exercise. The scenario involved an inexperienced group of four mine explorers that had entered to explore the mine. Precise details were not provided at the outset of the incidents and injuries sustained by the overdue group, which was intentionally accident prone in order to provide multiple opportunities for all rescuers to experience the co-ordinated search necessary in the ‘grid’ layout of pillar and stall workings. There were three true casualties to permit first aiders and advanced first aiders to apply their knowledge, experience that could be recorded in relation to new requirements, especially of the advanced first aid qualification.

The volunteer casualties were guided into position ca. 11:30h and briefed to provide the following incidents for the rescue parties to tackle:

1) One of the group had fallen over and had fractured her lower, right arm and cut her left hand.

2) A timber beam had fallen onto another of the group and broken a bone in her lower leg.

3) In an attempt to seek help, the remaining able-bodied friends had become separated and one had tripped and hit his head against a pillar and lay unconscious.

4) The final group member had found one of the alternative exits and was lost amongst the

fringe of dense shrub cover, too bewildered to re-enter the mine.

The group were reported overdue by a concerned relative.

The casualties set off with Gary E. to prepare for the exercise ca. 11:30h. Surface Control was

relocated from the car park to one of the main mine entrance portals beyond Dinas crag. Search

teams were each issued with a copy of the revised mine survey (G.J. Christian, 1987) and allocated

specified search routes to systematically search the workings, with the aim to complete each quickly

and efficiently, report back to Surface Control and be tasked with a further sweep until all four

missing mine explorers were found.

Four search teams A to D, each comprising three rescuers, were issued with a Cave Link and tasked

to sweep the designated underground routes from 11:50-12:00h. Communication from underground

to surface control was established via a surface Cave Link set up in the more accessible vegetation

directly above the mine workings and use of the Dragon 5 radio. Search Team A entered and

completed a rapid sweep just above the flooded workings, looked for evidence within the water and

directed lights up obvious rising passages. Reported back to Surface Control, confident from the

method of search that all locations were absolutely clear of lost mine explorers. They did report a

dive belt and weight found at the dive base cairn, located half way between the winch and pulley.

Search Team B was assigned a route further into the mine workings and soon located an injured

mine explorer on the incline slope. A Cave Link was set up and various messages were successfully

exchanged with Surface Control via Dragon 5. A first aider and rope were requested by radio;

casualty name, age and injuries were communicated. Messages were exchanged to determine the

required rope length and associated tackle. The right arm fracture was effectively padded and

immobilised and wound to left hand dressed before moving the casualty. A rope was belayed so that

an Italian hitch could be used to assist descent of the incline. The Search Team and casualty exited

the mine and reported to Surface Control at 13:15h.

Search Team C completed their designated search route and set up a Cave Link. They sent a message

to Surface Control via Dragon 5 to state that they had reached the derelict winch, and that none of

the overdue explorers had been found and that they would exit the mine and return to Surface

Control shortly. Search Team C members redeployed to assist the nearby Search Team D after one of

the missing mine explorers was found, injured and communicated this change of action to Surface

Control.

Search Team D located a casualty 100 m up the incline at ca. 12:30h, with a suspected fractured leg,

determined by the substantial timber beam that had fallen onto her leg. Search Team C were close

by and relocated their Cave Link close to the casualty and from there onwards assisted Search Team

D in anticipation of a stretcher carry. Various communications were exchanged with Surface Control

via Dragon 5. Casualty personal details and injuries were communicated and a stretcher, rope and

rigging tackle were requested. The first aid team and stretcher arrived with the casualty at ca.

12:50h and the requested tackle was portered into the mine by 13:15h, just after the casualty had

been loaded into the stretcher. There was a delay caused by the absence of a bolting kit with the 50

m rope, drill and rigging kit. Once the casualty’s leg was splinted and immobilised, and the casualty

transferred to stretcher, the initial life-lined stretcher carry commenced down the incline and the

easier walked section traversed. The Cave Link operator (of Search Team C) was requested to remain

on stand-by at the original casualty location at that time despite the need for the others in his team

to assist with the stretcher carry.

Search Team A located a tired but otherwise fine, lost mine explorer during their search along the

second assigned search route, high up the incline at an entrance portal enclosed by dense shrub.

They used Cave Link to inform Surface Control of this development and guided the person back

through the mine workings and out of the conventional entrance before reporting in at Surface

Control, shortly after 13:30h.

The fourth mine explorer remained missing at 13:45h and a large Search Team F was formed of

available personnel from the earlier Search Teams that had returned to Surface Control. The mine

was entered at 13:45h to carry out a line search across the upper incline. An unconscious and cold

casualty was found and a small group head out to fetch a stretcher. After a full assessment, the

casualty was loaded into the stretcher and carried to the mine entrance by 14:20h.

The exercise finished when the LC3 operator was collected from the mine workings and the surface

Dragon 5 operator returned to Surface Control (training exercise incident closed with Police at

15:00h). A short briefing session followed amongst all gathered at Surface Control.

Useful feedback from the briefing:

1) There was consensus that this was a worthwhile and enjoyable training exercise.

Familiarisation with the layout and search patterns in this type of mine, experience for first

aiders with various casualty incidents and effective establishment and use of

communications were important training outcomes.

2) The casualty found and assisted by Search Team B reported that as casualty, she would have

benefitted from more reassurance at the beginning, perhaps at the time when the Search

Team were more pre-occupied with rigging and preparing the handline. After that, the level

of reassurance and instructions were generally, very good.

3) A delay was caused when a bolting kit was requested by Search Team D but not found in the

equipment portered to Surface Control from the SMWCRT Landrover. It had been loaded

into the Landrover at the rescue equipment store but the bag was obscured by other

equipment and left in the Landrover. A written checklist of tackle bags loaded into the

Landrover on the morning may have encouraged a more determined search for the bolting

kit and avoided delay.

4) The casualty with leg injury saw lights quite some time before being found. Commented

favourably on the level of reassurance and explanation during the stretcher carry. This group

was short-handed for the stretcher carry (partly accounted for point 6) and it was

considered difficult for the first aider to both carry the stretcher and attend to the casualty

throughout the carry.

5) Members of Search Team D observed that they found the Dinas mine survey particularly

useful since helpful waymarks were indicated that enabled them to follow the pre-arranged

search route and report back precise locations.

6) Due to redeployment of Search Team C members to assist Search Team D with the stretcher

haul of the casualty with leg injury, their Cave Link operator was requested to remain on

stand-by at the original casualty location. The consequence that this rescuer would then be

left alone for the rest of the search and rescue exercise without reliable communications or

a mine survey was not immediately appreciated. This situation should not arise and it was a

useful lesson for Surface and Underground Controllers to appreciate, that redeployed

personnel need to be carefully tracked and assigned to new tasks so as to avoid isolating any

individual.

7) Lights were detected sweeping ground tantalizingly close to the ‘unconscious’ casualty

during the first round of search sweeps. Then there was a long period before being found.

Lack of resources meant that this Search Team could not be deployed underground until

rescuers involved with the other injured casualties had emerged from the mine. There was a

good practice of a line search through pillar and stall, with the need to keep a straight line

and avoid racing ahead of colleagues left and right. There was very good treatment of the

unconscious casualty, from initial approach to diagnostic checks and stretcher loading.

Spoken to reassuringly throughout in case partially conscious – excellent. First aider

promptly recognised that the casualty was very cold and shivering although without a

Flectron blanket with the stretcher kit, it was quickly agreed that this was best addressed by

efficient transit outside the mine to the sunshine and warm air.

8) Surface Communications were made a little difficult by the need to set up the Cave Link off

the footpath on difficult terrain. Once the two injured casualties were located, it became

very busy with the simultaneous communications. Hand held (Dragon) radios did not work

within the mine but provided efficient communication to Surface Control, with a brief period

when a battery failed before a charged replacement was delivered. Cave Link was very

effective throughout the training exercise although there were comments from those less

familiar with this system that further instructions on basic functions would be appreciated.

The known bug was encountered in one set when an antennal check was initiated during

message transmission which locked out the system, so a clearer warning note of this specific

pitfall was also requested.

Reference

G.J. Christian, 1987. Dinas quartzite mine, survey of workings. Redrawn from original mine owner’s

plan. Amended and further detail added 12/ 11-87. Wealdon Cave and Mine Society.

Peter Dennis, SMWCRT Training Officer

 

7 December 2017