Rescue Practice Report – Ogof Ffynnon Ddu Sat 5th December

Our final practice of the year once again allowed us to maintain skill levels whilst conducting a Practice using COVID-secure protocols as far as we were able. Rather than a traditional stretcher carry with a large number of people gathered together, we chose for the day a search exercise. This allowed us to split the team into groups of at most 3 or 4 people and keep them separated within the cave.

During the planning for this Rescue Practice, we aimed to meet a number of objectives:-

1. To provide a Rescue Practice for up to 50 cave rescuers that would not create COVID-19 risk by having many people working closely together for long periods of time. A search was agreed to be the best solution.

2. To provide an opportunity for team members to experience their role in a large-scale search and to gain awareness of some of the protocols that require adherence during a search.

3. To have an opportunity to visit parts of OFD2 that many team members would not be familiar with.

4. To ensure all participants were occupied for most of the day and not left hanging around.

5. To develop a search plan for the OFD2 Top Entrance area we have robust search plans for Cwm Dwr and for clearing the Main Streamway in OFD1 and 2, but only rough guidelines for the complex Top Entrance area.

By developing a plan for this Practice, it could be developed into a finalised plan for use in a rescue. The scenario chosen was that two cavers, Huw and Dwain, had left a ticket at SWCC with the minimal information that they were exploring around Top Entrance.

Some pre-work was done to create a briefing for the Control Team and the first four search routes were developed. It was evident early in the planning that the best way to do this would be to have a Control Point underground in a central location that all the Search Teams could return to before setting out to a new search area. The Chasm Passage area above the Corkscrew was chosen for this purpose and this worked extremely well. A further two Search Teams were deployed later after line-laying duties.

All communication methods, France Phone, Cave-Link and VHF radio, used on the day worked extremely well, although it was felt that some VHF radio traffic was unnecessarily lengthy. It is recommended to keep your messages simple and think clearly about what you are going to say before transmitting. Also of note was that for a period, Cave-Link messages were not being sent successfully from the underground unit and were accumulating in the outbox until some water was poured on the aerial plates, where upon they were all delivered instantly.

The Underground Controller worked from the underground Control Point and was in communication with the Control Team at Penwyllt via a France Phone line, which was laid directly between the two points and also by Cave-Link to the surface.

Finally, at around 14:30h, Search Team 1 returned to the Control Point, having found the missing cavers near Lugubrious Passage (from Midnight Passage). By around 15:30h all Search Teams and Comms Teams and the missing cavers, Huw & Dwain, had returned to HQ.

We searched a significant area of the cave in a surprisingly short period of time and I should like to thank everyone who attended for their efforts. Not only was the day enjoyable for those taking part, it also produced a set of highly detailed and thoroughly tested Search Plans that Im sure we will make good use of in the future.

Finally, I should also like to thank the SWCC Committee for allowing the SMWCRT to use the Small Common Room even though the HQ was effectively shut due to COVID-19restrictions. This allowed a limited number of Surface Controllers to efficiently perform their duties and use the main base station VHF radio set. Signing team members in and out via the window worked well and ensured individuals did not need to enter the building.

Kevin Munn, Training Officer SMWCRT, January 2021