Sunday 9 Dec 2012. Rescue of a 43 year old male caver physically stuck for seven hours in the Labyrinth Series Ogof Ffynon Ddu ll, Penwyllt, South Wales.

The underground leader writes:

At approx 13:00 the casualty fell in a rift in the Labyrinth area of Ogof Ffynon Ddu II. This resulted in his pelvis being lodged below a constriction in the rift. He tried to move along the rift to find a spot where he could get out, but simply ended up being completely wedged by his pelvis. His arms, legs, body and head were all free to move, but he had no way to support his weight other than on his pelvis. His right leg was awkwardly twisted and his right arm bent over his head. He was with a strong team who tried to help him get free but crucially sent out runners to raise the alarm at any early stage. This meant that within an hour of his entrapment the callout was already underway. An OFD surveying team was passed on the way down the hill and they were redirected to assist.

The first response team, with enough kit to begin to free him and establish comms went underground soon after 15:00. The rescue can be split into 4 distinct phases :-

· Stabilisation - He was understandably very concerned about his predicament. He was also physically a spent force and was struggling to suspend himself in order to relieve his own pain. The reassurance of re-enforcements and specialist equipment started to raise moral. Two bolts were immediately placed in the ceiling either side of him. Gri-Gris were installed to provide fully adjustable 'stirrups' for his feet.

· Freeing - Plan A was to attempt to reverse his route into the rift, with the assistance of Entonox. Plan B, was to use plugs & feathers to remove the restriction directly restraining his pelvis. It was suggested that plan B would improve moral, so we had a quick go before proceeding with plan A. Luckily the plugs & feathers worked amazingly well and resulted in a clean cut #1 and a significant slab of rock removed. It was clear that plan B was the way forward. Under these unique circumstances, repeatedly drilling towards his genitals proved to be a massive psychological boost, although on one occasion we did drill his leg. Plug and feather cut #2 allowed access to make the critical cut #3. This pelvis was so tightly wedged that in order to remove the critical pieces of rock, we had to directly lever his pelvis requiring significant amounts of Entonox.

· Extraction - We were now confident that he was free, but by this point he was barely able to feel or move his limbs. It was therefore very tricky, in the confined space, to raise him out of the rift. There was <40cm between the top of his shoulders and the ceiling, so we had no space for pulleys or proper knots. By installing a stemple between the two bolts and tying a sling under his armpits we were able to raise him vertically for the crucial first 10cm, before using brute force to rotate him and drag him out of the rift. He was released at 20:00, after being stuck for 7hrs.

· Exit - Once released he was given a full medical examination, properly re-warmed and given some food and drink to prepare him for the journey out. After 30mins, and fitted with a full body harness, he was able to stand and with close support, able to start making his way out. The activity improved his circulation and he quickly picked up speed. Two roped sections were pre-rigged and swiftly dispatched. He reached the surface about 22:00 with a big grin. He was ultimately taken to hospital by ambulance with a suspected trapped nerve in his right arm.

Special mentions :-

· The time, effort and money spent on the drill modernisation project a few years ago was paid back with interest. Despite being heavier and more powerful, the 28v DeWalt proved better than the 18v Makita, because the gearbox delivers power at right angles to the motor resulting in a shorter body. We drilled a total of 16 x 150mm x12mm dia holes, yet only used a third of the available battery power.

· The plugs & feathers were exceptional and without them the job would not have been completed so swiftly. We certainly need to carry a larger stock, as we only just had enough.

· The foot team (two very slim female members) did sterling work crawling around in the squalid bottom of the rift.

· Those of us who had missed lunch and tea were very grateful for the packs of sandwiches that were delivered underground.

Virtually everything worked perfectly, but we did have the following minor issues :-

· Initially Heyphone comms were restrictive and we struggling to report the situation and request equipment.

· A communication problem caused a delay in the arrival of the Entonox.

· We didn't have any crowbars onsite.

Training, skills, equipment, teamwork and logistics were in abundant supply, right from control in the small common room (in South Wales Caving Club hut) through to the tip of the brand new drill bits at the sharp end. Well done everyone, our 15th rescue of the year was a successful one.

Diagram of rescue