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Hospital Cave - dive rescue

by PCW ~, 21 September 2008

By Brian (Jopo) Jopling. All photos courtesy of Carl Ryan ~ Red Mist Extreme Photography

At 17.44 on Monday 1st September, a member of the Fairbridge Trust phoned the police to report two (M&F) cavers overdue in Craig yr Nos Quarry Cave or Hospital Cave. Time due out had been 16.15. John Lister was the first of the WBCRT Wardens that the Police were able to make contact with. The caller also phoned Toby who was on route from North Wales but due to poor reception I received only a broken message.

Toby, Steve R, Vince, Jopo and Martyn take a food and drink break. Martyn dives in with casualty comforts

John phoned me at 18.10 and the callout was started. I spoke to the caller and established the basic facts then called out the local members.
When we arrived at the lay-by opposite Craig yr Nos Quarry the overdue parties vehicle was there and their outdoor clothes still present so it was safe to assume that they were missing. More team members arrived and the bar in Craig Y Nos Castle was checked. We checked Hospital Cave as one of the party had sent a text to Gary Mitchell asking about access to Hospital Cave at 11am. Due to the vagaries of the cell net Gary did not get the message till much later and had not responded.

Martyn on his return to the surface Martyn taking dive kit in to the trapped cavers

Hospital Cave showed no sign of having being entered and indeed looked a little like Niagra! No one had called at the Pentre or had been seen.
Craig yr Nos Quarry Cave was checked followed by Upper Hospital Cave. Both were clear with standing pools undisturbed.
Martyn Farr, the WBCRT Cave Diver Rescue Co-ordinator, who was on standby, was called out and Toby went to Penwyllt to collect diving gear as we were beginning to realise that they may well be trapped beyond the entrance sump in Hospital Cave. The MR were called as there was a possibility of the cavers being on the hill and we felt that to give MR the remaining daylight to start a search would be best. Martyn arrived by fast police car and kitted up.

The sump was dived and Martyn discovered the two cavers -- alive and well -- in a side passage beyond the sump. He had in fact missed them on the way in and was returning to the sump when they met. Martyn came out and reported. The sump had shown signs of falling between the first check and the first dive so it was hoped that it would continue but the forecast was bad, although by this time, 22.50, we had one of the few starry nights of the summer.Martyn dived food and comforts in and returned to control.
We had requested a Fire Officer to assess the sump with a view to pumping but when he arrived he found the volume was too great for the flow and it was noted that the sump had stopped falling. Martyn redived to discuss with the cavers if they would consider diving out with assistance. They said that they would rather try than wait for an indeterminable time so Martyn then ferried wetsuits, weights, hoods and gloves in and put an 11mm rope through.

By 01.40 on 2nd September Martyn had completed a test run and by 01.45 one was out followed by the other at 02.00. Both used a pony cylinder after a crash course in diving by Martyn. By 02.20 all were back at the lay-by. We logged 8 dives by Martyn.

Steve and Vince waiting to receive the first caver to dive out Martyn, Steve and first caver safely through the entrance sump

A Few facts.

The forecast for the Swansea valley was rain early, clearing up later. VERY Wrong.
They did the right thing by waiting until the levels fell or the team arrived.
The sump was never less than 4m long throughout the rescue.
From a kit and procedure take, everything went well and no were shortages noted.
It was noted that the cas comforts box had to be weighted as would any other gear in Pelicases should it have been required.

Lel, Jude, Mick and Marj, and later, Elsie B, Peter Dobson and Quilly manned Penwyllt and kept us supplied with food and drink.
The other members called out were, Jopo, Toby, Vince, Pat, Gary M, Steve Rose and Martyn. Gary Evans was on standby. Martyn decided that no standby diver was required although Steve Thomas had been called earlier but could not be contacted. John Lister took the initial call from the police.

At about 15.00 on Monday there was a torrential storm which flooded DYO carpark and camping fields to the extent that tents were floating.
Nobody is aware of the Hospital Cave catchment and it was not known if this caused the sump to close of if the pulse had come through. This was important in as much as the decision to dive them out if they and Martyn were happy and whether it was possible without undue risk.

A job well done. A bigger callout would have been more stood around waiting, wet and getting cold so we are happy we got it right. What is worrying is that this is the 3rd midweek callout this year - not counting the dogs!. If this is a trend then we have to look at our midweek resources.
The police were present throughout and did a great job supporting us. The MR were pretty quick to respond and as soon as the cavers were located departed after offering any further assistance if required.

All photos courtesy of Carl Ryan ~ Red Mist Extreme Photography

BBC News story: Cavers in 8 hour rescue drama. BBC News