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Daren Cilau rescue call-out 18 Dec 2009

by PCW ~, 03 January 2010

Call-out for overdue party. Report by Jopo, Toby, Charles and Gary E

First may we wish you all a happy holiday and hope we only meet you, until after the holiday at least, socially.

At 07.07 Gary Evans received a call from Dyfed Powys Police. A party of 4 from Aberystwyth University Caving Club (AUCC) were overdue on a Darren - Prices trip. Time out was first given as 4am. Gary E started a small callout - mainly of Eastern members. By 7.30pm Jopo and Toby were at HQ at Penwyllt and carried on the callout and packing the Landrover. By 0815 the cave entrances had been checked by Malcolm Reid and the party was still overdue.

Elsie, Vince and Lel were tasked to man Penwyllt. Toby and Jopo went to Whitewalls at 8.30am with some comms, food, Short Slix stretcher, spare exposure bags (which turned out to be useful for the surface comms teams). No other local member could contacted at that time and the call-out continued from the LR. We did not take Francephones believing some were at Whitewalls. In the event it made little difference and was corrected when Steph Davies called in at Penwyllt to collect 4 and the ex Gwent 12v chargers. We were not sure on the state of the Heyphone cells but as they had been checked only a couple of weeks previously we had taken most on the first run. Steph did not realize that there were others at the club and collected the gear and left - causing some confusion. By the time the LR reached Whitewalls, Charles, Malcolm and 4 other AUCC members were ready to go into Prices and Darren.

Charles et al could not access the rescue stores, as locks were recently changed and keys have not yet been issued and when Toby and I arrived we issued comms, search kits and flasks. There was some confusion as to what roles Charles and Malcolm were expected to play but given the 'newness' of the Gwent situation everything worked out well. The plan was to search the route from either end and meet somewhere along Antler. Charles Bailey, Malcolm Reid and Dan Thorne (WBCRT) into Prices and Chris Belton, Rich Smith and Henry Patton, all AUCC, into Darren. The Darren survey on the wall did not show the Prices-Darren connection and we found a later print, so I suppose we owe someone 3.50 - although it was left on the wall.

A Heyphone was to be deployed on the hill and each team took one in. Both teams left at 0930. By 10.15 we had 12 team members (Cardiff contingent + Ali and Jules) and 4 remaining AUCC cavers at Whitewalls. The surface Heyphone gave problems (suspect cell) and a spare set and cells were dispatched. Subsequently the Prices Heyphone never made contact and the microphone on the Darren party unit failed immediately after making good contact. No news was passed. The surface Heyphone party was above the Big Chamber area. We brainstormed a list of extra gear we thought we might be needed in the event of a protracted rescue and this was assembled at Penwyllt and then bought over by Clair Sansom at 2.10pm. It should be remembered that the old Gwent stores required complete refurbishment and rationalization which is almost complete.

This callout has given a few pointers in achieving the correct balance. As midday approached the call-out to place members on standby (in anticipation of an extended rescue) was underway. The hit rate was very low and most calls went to answer phones. The surface Heyphone party was relieved and we were about to relieve the Prices entrance surface party when we received a radio message from them at 1.45pm that the overdue party and the Prices search party were exiting the cave and all were in good health. The stand down was started - again many calls went to answer phones. It seems at least one call was not made and if there were others we apologise. Unfortunately we could not contact Clair S.

Underground Events. Two of the overdue party were met, at the pitch down from Busman's to the connecting choke to Antlers, at 11.45hrs by the Prices search team. They were a little cold, thirsty and hungry and were fed and watered. Two of the AUCC had gone off to get warm about an hour earlier (a guess as none had a watch).The Heyphone was set up but no contact made. Charles elected to drop down into Antlers for a quick look whilst Malcolm and Dan + 2 started out. Almost immediately the other two from AUCC were met and Charles retrieved the search kit from Malcolm's party and fed them. Malcolm's party then made their way out.

During the feeding process Henry and Rich appeared having left Chris at Big Chamber with the Heyphone. Charles + the 2 from AUCC then left at 12.30pm. Charles +2 exited Prices at 2pm, closely followed by Malcolm and the others - who had slightly mislaid the exit route and had been overtaken. Henry and Rich went back to collect Chris and the Heyphone and exit via Darren. Fortunately AUCC have learnt to carry emergency kit and although tired they were in reasonable condition. All they need to do now is to carry a watch, compass and survey. The AUCC party consisted of 3 females (21, 21 and 19) and 1 male (18). The actual callout time was 2am Friday. The alarm was not raised until the respondent woke up. Could have been very serious but for us was a bonus. Wind Up. The lost party and the Prices team were back at Whitewalls by 2.30pm and the Darren team emerged at 3pm. The LR was back at Penwyllt by 4.30pm and the police informed the rescue was over.

Throughout the rescue a Police Officer was present. We did ask if the police could provide food if the rescue went big but unfortunately his superiors gracefully declined. So Joel tried his charms on Waitrose and they turned out trumps. The police car went to Waitrose and actually had to refuse half of the food they were offering for free. Bacon, sausage, bread, chocolate, pizzas, pot noodles, fruit - a veritable mound of food! What was not used and is not perishable has been used to re-stock the Whitewall and Penwyllt stores. Waitrose will receive a letter of profound thanks from the team. A total of 21 WBCRT members were onsite and 4 at Penwyllt. At least 14 members were on standby. We cannot be more specific as some alerts and stand downs were to answer phones.

Our thanks to all who responded or were on standby. A successful rescue which shook a few more wrinkles.

We are definitely getting there.

Jopo, Toby, Charles and Gary E.