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Mendip Rescue Organization

Cave Rescues and Incidents for the Year ending 31st January 1978

Sunday 6th February                  Swildons Hole

A party of twelve including eight novices were led down the cave by S.P. Tarran from St. Edmund Hall, Oxford University, and Hilary Worth from University College Buckland, Farringdon.  On the way back from Sump I, Liz Ellis, who was one of the novices, lost both Wellington boots between the Double Pots and Twenty Foot Pot owing to the strong stream flow.  She sustained several cuts to her feet, legs and hands and was clearly suffering from exposure on reaching the Upper Series.  The party was met by Martin Bishop, Pete Moody, Pete McNab and Tony Jarratt at the Well and the victim was carried out and given a hot bath at Priddy.  Rich Websell assisted two other novices.  In a subsequent letter of thanks, Steve Tarran writes, “A number of recent novice trips down Swildons recently have gone so well that I become a little overoptimistic.  Obviously, in those water conditions I should not have taken them down.”  The party was not an official Oxford University one and the rescue did not involve the Police.

Sunday 3rd April                        Manor Farm Swallet

Martin Bishop received a call from the Belfry at 8pm regarding a party from Bath 18 Plus group two hours overdue.  He went to Charterhouse with Andy Sparrow and found a very tired and lightless party at the foot of the entrance shaft.  They were lifelined to the surface and it was not necessary to inform the Police.

Saturday 4th June                      Buddle’s Wood, Chewton Mendip

Howard Kenney and Richard Stevenson searched old mine shafts in the wood for a golden retriever dog missing from nearby Grove Farm.  The dog returned home on its own during the evening.

Saturday 11th June                    Stoke Lane Slocker

A party of eight from the Cambridge Climbing and Caving Club entered the cave at 12.30pm  On reaching Sump I, all but one went through, the remaining caver staying in Cairn Chamber to await the return of the main party from Stoke II.  During the time they were visiting the upper chambers, the stream rose so that it was impossible to get within a safe diving distance on the downstream approach to the sump when they returned. They remained on the far side for about four hours until the water level had dropped sufficiently.  By 6.30pm the farmer became anxious and contacted Frome Police who checked the cave entrance and then called M.R.O. at 7pm.  William Stanton alerted Brian Prewer who went to the cave. Richard Stevenson and Alan Mills led a small rescue party into the cave at about 8.30pm and met the trapped cavers safely negotiating the dive as the water had fallen.  All were out of the cave by 9.50pm.  All cavers are urged to note that the quarries upstream of the village have installed automatic pumps which now exaggerate the effects of local floods in the system.  The water level was significantly reduced after the quarry company had been requested to switch off their pumps during the alert.  A helpful resume of the situation appears in the Cave Diving Group Newsletter No. 46, January 1978, pages 3-4.

Monday 11th July                       Swildons Hole

Christopher Bowden, an 18-year old student from Plymouth, accompanied three friends on a Round Trip starting about 3.0p.m.  He had not dived a sump before but was well equipped with a 6mm wet suit.  The party was led by Alan Travarthen.  Bowden declined to dive the sump and became frightened.  Another party let by Bob Lewis chanced across, the scene and Lewis remained to give help whilst others left the cave to alert M.R.O.  Alan Thomas was appraised of the situation and informed Frome Police.  Martin Bishop, Ross White and Dave Irwin went down the cave about 9.30pm and the latter returned after an hour requesting diving gear since Bowden would not go back through the Troubles either.  Chris Hannam took diving gear into the cave at 11.0pm and Thomas alerted other wardens and informed Don Thomson.  Between midnight and 1.0a.m., a strong support team went underground with further equipment and medical supplies.  Final efforts to bully Bowden to make the dive succeeded shortly afterwards and the cave was cleared rapidly by about 1.30a.m.  It seems more logical for first-time sump dives to be undertaken the right way around rather than committing such cavers to a Round Trip and obligatory reverse dive.

Saturday 6th August                  Swildons Hole

A party of four descended the cave at about 3.00.m.  They did not have wet suits and were using carbide lamps without spares.  Only two had any previous experience and had travelled to the area from Crawley with their parents.  Arrangements had been made to meet at Rickford about 5.00pm otherwise the parents had no knowledge of the party's whereabouts.  Before reaching Sump I, the lamps began to dim and so the party started to come out.  They took a turning unknown to them in the Water Chamber and then their lights failed. Before the Rickford rendezvous passed, the parents happened to notice their son’s car on Priddy Green whilst on a tour of Mendip, so when they had not turned up at 8.00pm they returned to Priddy. Finding the car still parked there, they made local enquiries and alerted M.R.O.  Brian Prewer informed the Frome Police whilst Ian Jepson, Phil Hendy, Paul Hadfield and Barry Wilkinson searched the cave.  The missing four were found in the Old Grotto, dispirited, cold and hungry.  Had the parents not spotted the car, this call-out would have been difficult.  It is most important to leave exact details of which cave is being visited.

Saturday 27th August                 Lamb Leer

David Getterling and Paul Lydon from London went down the cave in the afternoon; the former claimed to be experienced but the other was not.  A lifeline was used on the fixed entrance ladder; however, it was not thought necessary to use one on the Main Chamber pitch!  On returning, Lydon was unable to climb the ladder and so his friend alerted M.R.O. through Bath Police.  Brian Prewer was contacted at 5.20pm but could not reach Getterling for further details as the informant had left the phone.  Prewer alerted William Stanton and a party of four from the Belfry led by Graham Wilton-Jones went to the cave finding Gettering at the entrance.  They hauled Lydon up on the winch and the cave was cleared by about 7.00pm.  Quite apart from the conduct of the trip, it is very important that informants remain at the phone until contacted by an M.R.O. warden for further details; otherwise, it is very difficult to initiate an effective call-out.

Sunday 11th September             Reads Cavern

A party of four youths went down the cave during the afternoon.  After leaving one of the party in the Main Chamber, the rest found their way into the Browne-Stewart Series.  The lad left behind panicked when the others did not return so he left the cave and asked a passer-by to contact M.R.O.  Frome Police received the call and alerted Brian Prewer at 5.45pm reporting that two cavers were stuck.  Dave Irwin, John Dukes and Chris Batstone went to Burrington to assess the situation followed by four cavers from the Belfry.  Alan Thomas was stood by.  The rescuers met a Police Patrol there and reported that the overdue party had surfaced. A brief chat ensued about under-estimating the times for trips and about not leaving novices alone in caves!  All were stood down at 6.30pm.

Saturday 24th September           Ham Rising, Derbyshire

Martin Bishop called from Derbyshire to stand-by a caving team to help retrieve a body from Ham Rising if required.  Richard Stevenson was contacted to alert local divers.  In the event, Derbyshire rescuers recovered the body.  (See Cave Diving Group Newsletter No. 46, January 1978, pages 17-18)

Wednesday 28th September       Swildons Hole

Frome Police contacted M.R.O. and reported that a Mr. Trig from Bristol had seen the same ladder hanging at the Twenty Foot Pot during a trip that day as on the previous Sunday.  A quick check of car parks and camp sites in Priddy indicated no one missing nor any parties that had not returned from the cave.  No further action was taken.

Saturday 29th October               Eastwater Cavern

A call was received from Bridgwater Police by Briar Prewer at 10.00p.m.  They were concerned about a call from a woman in cheddar who said that she had arranged to her husband there at 6.00pm after a caving trip somewhere on Mendip.  She thought they might be using a blue 1100 Estate car but was not certain about that either.  Prewer contacted Chris Hannam at Priddy and the latter met a local Police patrol. They made a tour of the most obvious sites but could not find the car.  Meanwhile Andy Sparrow checked at Eastwater Farm and was informed that a party of four were still in the cave and now overdue.  The blue car was parked in the farmyard.  Sparrow and another caver went down Eastwater Cavern straight away and located the missing party at the bottom of Baker's Chimney.  They had taken a long time to reach the bottom of the cave and had lost their way on coming out.  Otherwise, they were all right and were brought but of the cave by about midnight.  It transpired that Corporals Keith Loti and Brian Rawcliffe of the R.A.F. had gone down the cave with Mrs. Barbara Rawcliffe and Alan Whitehead from Henton at about 3.00pm.  Two of the party were complete novices.  The incident highlighted yet again the problems faced by both Police and M.R.O. when insufficient information is left about the exact location and duration of a trip.  It is important that accurate details are given to people preferably cavers, who know the area and its caves.  This saves much time and frustration should an emergency arise,

Sunday 20th November   .           Cuckoo Cleeves

Brian Prewer was contacted by a Mr G. Samways of Yeovil Caving Club at 3.15pm who reported that two of his party were stuck, in the narrow tube approach to Lake Chamber.  One of those stuck was said to be rather distressed.  Prewer informed Frome Police then alerted Martin Bishop to contact Pete Moody and Alison Hooper who were thought to be in Rocket Drop Cave.  Fred Davies, Dave Turner, Alan Mills and Colin Williams were called and Don Thomson asked to standby.  By the time Alison Hooper arrived, the pair had succeeded in reaching Lake Chamber were she joined them with Moody.  With Pete backing along the tube and Alison following, each of the cavers was coaxed out.  Alan Thomas and Martin Bishop organised other parties if required.  In the event, these were not needed and the cave was cleared by 6.15pm.

Sunday 20th November   .           Swildons Hole

After the Cuckoo Cleeves call-out, Brian Prewer received a message from Frome Police at 8.30pm reporting that a girl was unable to climb up the Twenty Foot Pot.  The informant had left the Priddy Green call box when Prewer tried to get further details, so he contacted Martin Bishop there and asked him to locate the caller.  Meanwhile, a party consisting of John Dukes, Chris Batstone, Andy Sparrow, J. Kirby and N. Weston joined Bishop with hauling ropes and the Revival apparatus.  On reaching the Twenty, they pulled the girl up and assisted her out by about 10.00pm.  She was given a hot bath.  The girl, Sharon Gorman aged 21 from Yeovil, was on her first caving trip and only had light clothing on.

Saturday 3rd December Boho Caves, County Fermanagh

Dr. Oliver Lloyd received a call from the Belfast Police requesting him to stand-by a team of divers for a rescue in progress there being organised by Dave Drew and Jeff Phillips. Two cavers had been trapped by floods. The local Fire Service was pumping out the entrance series, the Army were building a dam and Dave and Jeff were the divers.  Lloyd consulted with William Stanton straight away at 10.30pm and proceeded to raise local divers whilst Stanton contacted Frome Police.  It was agreed that, if a diving team was required, the Police would call on the R.A.F. to fly them to Northern Ireland.  In the end, those on the spot successfully rescued the trapped pair in the early hours on Sunday.  A full report on the incident by the divers appears in the Cave Diving Group Newsletter No. 46, January 1978, pages 23-24.

Sunday 11th December             Burrington Combe

Brian Prewer was contacted by Weston-s-Mare Police the previous evening regarding the whereabouts of unknown youths missing from an abandoned tent on Burrington Ham.  It was agreed that the area would be searched on the Sunday during daylight.  Several cavers gave the Police assistance in combing the surface throughout the day and parties visited the caves.  Nothing was found except a set of drums!  The Police informed M.R.O. later that they were concentrating future enquiries elsewhere.