REPORT OF A CAVE RESCUE PRACTICE HELD IN DAN YR OGOF 2nd June 2018

 

We are grateful to Ashford Price, Dan yr Ogof Show Cave and Jem Rowlands, Secretary of the Dan yr Ogof Conservation Advisory Panel for permission to use the cave for the rescue practice. This was the first cave rescue exercise in Dan yr Ogof for several years and the small team rehearsed the evacuation of a stretchered casualty through selected obstacles from Gerard Platten Hall in parallel with a test of the France Phone communications.

 

Surface Control and Communications

With experienced Surface Control personnel absentit was a good opportunity for team members new to the role to locate equipment, record messages and apply check-out procedures under their own initiativeThe T-card system was set up and successfully used to monitor rescuers and kit throughout the practiceOnce teams were tasked and checked out, Surface Control received few, discernible communications which limited the extent of control’ over the rescue exercise. Operators of the base station found that messages were barely discernible due to background noise in the Fan House. An important outcome of the practice was to propose relocation of the base station connection to a quieter location close to where the Landrover can access.

 

Rigging team – Stretcher haul out of Gerard Platten Hall

The rigging party belayed a counterbalance haul line, using slings around natural belays and existing anchors. Rescuers were able to assist the haul from safe recesses throughout the pitch. The party successfully lifted the stretchered casualty up the ladder pitch from Gerard Platten Hall to the start of The Long CrawlAdditional manual handling was required to physically manoeuvre the stretcher off the top step of the ladder and again from the top of the pitch, to turn towards the start of The Long CrawlThere, the volunteer casualty was released from the stretcher, equipment packed and everyone exited to The Lakes. The casualty commented that they “felt confident and reassured throughout the lift.

 

Underground communications

A temporary repair was required to the fixed cable at the old climb into Boulder Chamber because it had been sheared by a rock fallAdditional cable was successfully laid to connect Boulder Chamber to Showerbath and the start of The Long Crawl (before Horse Trough)to link with the fixed cable recently laid to the far end of the Long Crawl. With the technical challenges resolved, the continuity of the France Phone communications was confirmed when a message from Gerard Platten Hall was received at the Fan House and intermediate locations that the stretcher was about to be lifted! Lessons learnt were the need to prepare a line map to illustrate named cave locations that can be used for radio communication and to help Surface Control to track individuals. Call signs based on the labels on France phone sets were of little value since none were assigned to specific cave locations.

 

Floating stretcher

Another team assembled the floating stretcher and safely transported a volunteer across the first lake. All appreciated that a number of hazards would arise should water levels be very high. An assessment of risks related to airspace and water depth would need to be made with a decision to remain in the refuge at Boulder Chamber in adverse conditions.

The casualty was reloaded into the stretcher and successfully carried through the full length of the pathway and flights of steps of the Show cave out to the Landrover. A full rescue call-out well beyond Gerard Platten Hall would be a prolonged effort and demand a large turn out from the Rescue team.

 

There was a good opportunity during this rescue practice for those individuals assigned responsibilities to gain experience in aspects of a cave rescue that were less familiar. That also strengthens the team’s operational capability by reducing reliance on a few experienced team membersOnce the work on the France Phone system is completed, it needs to be tested again to increase confidence in communications within Dan yr Ogof.

 

Peter Dennis, Training Officer, SMWCRT

17 January 2019