During a busy weekend, with many University “freshers” underground, six students from Reading University were overdue on a trip to Shatter Pillar via Edward’s Shortcut with a return via Salubrious. (Ticket stated round trip to Shatter, in at 14.00 out at 19.00).

At 20.00 Sue Goodhead (Duty Officer) called Toby Dryden and asked him to initiate a callout as the party were already 1 hour overdue.  Details were given to Toby using the trip ticket, from another group of students who were with the same University group and from some cavers who had helped the party in question at the top of Edward’s Shortcut (at approximately 15.30 – 16.00 a light failure meant that the party concerned were lent another light to continue their trip). 

A request was made for an incident number a.s.a.p. so that someone could be sent up to the cave entrance to verify whether there was anyone about to exit the cave.  Once the number was received Toby asked Ali Garman to send out a SARCALL alert and then started to call members to assist. In the meantime Tony Seddon went up to OFD 2 entrance with a Hi-band radio, a flask of hot drink, suitable cereal bars/biscuits, a kisu, extra warm clothes and a spare torch in addition to his own kit.  He was on his way by 20.40.  Toby arrived at SWCC having put some people on standby.

Two search parties, each of three people who were either very experienced cavers or knew the route well, were kitted up and prepared whilst waiting for Comms. from the cave entrance. Vince Allkins was called and, as he was able to attend, was alerted to the need for equipment provision.

21.00 Tony informed us that the overdue party had exited the cave and were being warmed and fed before being escorted down the hill by him.  All those on standby were stood down.  At 21.10 everyone was starting to walk down the hill.  At 21.30 an Inspector from Dyfed Powys rang as he was about to go off shift and wanted an update – Toby informed him that that all cavers were out safely.

By 21.40 everyone was back at SWCC and the incident was closed with the police.


Once the students had showered and warmed up it was discovered that the leader of the party had been on this trip 2 weeks previously and felt he knew the way.  He took a survey and encouraged the student participants to take a chocolate bar or 2 plus a drink. (They had only breakfasted and he wanted to ensure they had something with them). There was no evidence of any rope being carried. Light failure was overcome (see above) but having reached Shatter Pillar the leader found that the part of his survey relating to this section of the cave was missing.  The second leader didn’t know the way at all.  A wrong turning was taken at Shatter meaning that the party ended up over some traverses.  Realising the error the leader wanted to return to Shatter but one of the students panicked and refused to move.  Eventually (after about an hour) she was encouraged to go back the way they had travelled, but the party then became lost again in Salubrious resulting in an overdue callout.