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Mendip Rescue Organization

Cave Rescues and Incidents for the Year ending 31st December. 1981

This account covers the calendar year 1981 and so starts by repeating the note on the lengthy rescue in Agen Allwedd, South Wales, ending my last report. The list below continues the format of the thirty year record also published last year.  It shows that we have now passed 200 incidents over half of which have occurred during the past decade.  I have not listed an incident in which some boys were lost in the so-called Devil’s Hole Stone Mine, Bathampton, last July because they were found by the local Police.  Nor have I included two call-outs of the Cheddar Cliff Rescue Team to Salthouse Cliffs, Clevedon, on 27th June and to High Rock, Cheddar Gorge, on 3rd October for these reports are best left to our climbing colleagues.  They have been to three cliff rescue calls in as many years.

The fourteen cave rescue call-outs during 1981 were as follows:-

l7/l9th Jan

14th Feb

15th Feb

5th Mar

13th Mar

6th June

11th July

28th July

1st Sept

13th Sept

20th Sept

14th Nov

14th Nov

29th Nov

Agen Allwedd, South Wales Longwood Swallet

Swildon's Hole

Swildon's Hole

Read's Cavern

St. Cuthbert's Minery

Swildon's Hole

Box Stone Mines, Wiltshire

 G.B. Cavern

Singing River Mine

Swildon's Hole

Goatchurch Cavern

Wookey Hole Cave

Swildon's Hole















Boulder fall, broken leg

Fall, badly bruised



Lost, lights f.

Presumed missing person

Fall, broken leg

Lost, lights f.




Fall, broken ankle

Diving fatality


The details of each rescue given below are based upon the field reports prepared by Wardens during incidents.

Weekend l7-l9th January            Agen Allwedd

Three dozen Mendip rescuers went to help cavers in South Wales who were bringing out a patient with a broken leg from Southern Stream Passage. Another two dozen stood by.  The full report of this mammoth operation belongs to the South Wales Cave Rescue Organisation, of course.  However, we may record that the controller, Brian Joplin, found our radios a great help and the Little Dragon warm air breather proved invaluable.  We are especially grateful to the Warden of Crickhowell Youth Hostel for his hospitality to all from Mendip.

Saturday 14th February             Longwood Swallet

MRO was alerted to standby when an Oxford Polytechnic caver in a Wessex Cave Club party fell from an aven in the Upstream Galleries of the August Series.  It appears that unsound rock gave way when she was climbing.  In falling about 6 metres she was lucky not to be badly hurt and then plucky to get out with assistance from the Wessex party.  On being advised of the incident by Yeovil Police at 4.30 pm.  Brian Prewer stoodby parties at the Belfry and Upper Pitts by radio. Dr. Don Thomson was contacted and remained available until the underground party surfaced safely at 5.30 p.m. An examination at Wells Hospital revealed bruising to head, hip and foot.

Sunday 15th February                Swildon's Hole

A call was received concerning a party overdue.  It was not necessary for a rescue party to go underground.  No further details are available.

Friday 5th March                        Swildon's Hole

A call was received from Yeovil Police about midnight.  They had been contacted by a Mr. Pearse from the New Inn, Priddy, concerning a party of Venture Scouts who should have been out of the cave much earlier.  Brian Prewer telephoned the informant at Priddy and, during his conversation, the scouts appeared having under-estimated the time that their trip would take.

Saturday 13th    March               Read’s Cavern

Alan Dougherty from Wrington and Alan Hutchinson from Southville Bristol, went down the cave early in the evening expecting to return home by 8.30 p.m.  Both were experienced cavers.  They left their car off the track approaching the cave.  When they had not returned by 9.45 p.m., Mrs. Dougherty informed the Police at Weston-s-Mare, but their patrol was unable to locate the car in Burrington Combe.  A neighbour drove her to the area and she found her husband's Mini Clubman near the U.B.S.S. Hut.  She contacted the Police again at 11.15 p.m. to alert MHO.

Brian Prewer received the call from Yeovil Police at 11.20 p.m. and raised search parties from the Belfry and Upper Pitts by radio.  Bob Hill and Mike Duck took a quick look around the cave whilst Ken Daws and Chris Batstone checked out Rod's Pot and Drunkard' s Hole nearby.  These initial searches proved negative and so specific routes were followed.  Tim Large led a group to Z- Alley whilst Alison and Pete Moody covered the Browne-Stewart Series.  Radio links were set up on the surface.

The missing pair were found at the lower end of Z-Alley and brought safely to the surface at 2.25am on the Sunday.  It appears that they had lost the way when lights gave trouble and then failed. They huddled together in a polythene bag to keep warm and this appeared to be effective in the circumstances. All search parties returned by 3.00am.

Saturday 6th June          St. Cuthbert's Minery

Wells Police called Brian Prewer at 3.30pm concerning a report of an abandoned tent and sleeping bag on Mr. M. Cotter's property bordering the minery.  Mr. W. Foxwell suggested that it had been there for about a week and so the Police were concerned that the missing occupant may have gone caving and failed to return.

Tim Large was contacted at the Belfry.  He inspected the site for signs of caving equipment and made further enquiries from local residents and cavers.  This investigation indicated that the camping gear was unlikely to belong to a caver and no one had been reported overdue from a caving trip.  The Police were advised of this at 4.30 pm and no further action was taken.

Saturday 11th July         Swildon's Hole

Phillip Casemore, aged 37, from Crawley, Surrey was returning from Sump I on his first caving trip when, on approaching the Old Grotto, he stumbled and fell headlong. He sustained a fracture to his right leg below the knee and was in considerable pain.

Dave Irwin received the alarm through the Police at 2.15pm and alerted Stewart McManus, Chris Batstone and Alan Thomas to organise rescuers at the Hunters' Lodge.  Since the informant was unsure exactly where the incident had occurred in the Upper Series, Alan and Trevor Hughes searched the Dry Ways and reported the site to a team consisting of Martin Bishop, Mike Duck, Ross White, Tony Jarratt, Roger Gosling and Phil Hendy.  Dr. Stewart Parker was called from Bristol and arrived at 4.15 p.m.  Meanwhile, Martin Bishop had plastered the leg and a routine haul out was in progress.  A relief team of Wessex cavers was organised by Glyn Bolt.

The patient reached the surface at 4.35 p.m. and was met by the ambulance that had been guided across the fields by Jim Hanwell and Oliver Wells.  He was taken to Bristol Royal Infirmary for treatment.

Tuesday 28th July                      Box Stone Mines, Wiltshire

Brian Prewer received a call from Yeovil Police at 6.21pm.  They had a request from Devizes Police for assistance in finding three boys missing down the mines.  Apparently, the mother of a 13 year old had reported that her son had gone with two friends, aged 13 and 11, to find the Cathedral via the Back Door.  They had failed to return and only had one torch.

Bob Scammell and Chris Batstone were alerted to organise search Parties.  Several members of the Oolite Mines Exploration Group took part, their knowledge of the area being invaluable.  A radio link between the Quarryman's Arms and the Belfry was established and Alan Butcher and Dave Irwin were asked to standby.

At 7.30 p.m. it was reported that a search to the Cathedral had been negative and so two parties had set out to cover the B12 and Jack Workings respectively.  The missing boys were eventually discovered by Bob Scammell’s Party at the Four Ways Junction.  They were lost and their torch had all but faded.  By 7.55pm that had been brought to the surface unharmed but, we must hope, rather wiser.

Tuesday 1st September              G.B. Cavern

At 2.30 p.m. Brian Prewer was told by Weston-s-Mare Police that a party of four cavers had been reported overdue from a trip down G.B.  Six members of the 1st Greenford Scout Troop, London, aged between 15 and 17 had entered the cave about 11.30am with M. Day and R. Wheatley as leaders.  They split into two groups to follow the Mud Passage and Devil's Elbow routes.  When the Devil's Elbow party failed to make the rendezvous in the Gorge, Day left the cave, telephoned the Police and then returned underground.  This meant that MHO had no details to help in alerting rescuers.  Tim Large went to the cave followed by Brian Prewer and Jim Hanwell.

Apparently, the Devil's Elbow party had traversed across the top of the pitch because they thought the chain was too short and did not indicate the way on.  They retreated on being unable to continue and met Day on his way back after raising the alarm.  All were safely out of the cave at 5.00pm to explain what had happened to Tim large.  He was told that the trip had been arranged by the London Ambulance Service Caving Club.

Sunday 13th September.            Singing River Mine

Paul Sutton and Graham Sweeper collected the key to the mine from the Belfry at about 4.00pm.  As they were camping in the area, they left details of their trip on the Belfry board and estimated that they would be back by 7.30pm.  When they had not returned by 10.00pm, Chris Batstone and Bob Hill went to Shipham and found that their car was there and the entrance shaft was still laddered. They alerted the Belfry and search parties with equipment set off at about 10.30pm.  Jim Hanwell informed the Police of' the incident and Dr. Don Thomson was asked to stand by.

The missing pair were found on the route to the Stinking Gulf and all were safely out of the mine by 11.10 pm.  It appears that they had not been down the system before and had failed to find their way back from the Gulf.

Sunday 20th September             Swildon' s Hole

Brian Prewer received a call from Yeovil Police at 2.54pm that a Mr. Wick at Bath had reported his Son overdue from a trip by about 2 hours.  No further details were known.  However, when Brian telephoned the informant, he discovered that the son had already rung home to say that his party was out of the cave.

Saturday 14th November             Goatchurch Cavern

Richard Wright, a Scout aged 33 from Hove, Sussex, led a party of' four novice and one caver with some experience down the cave at about 2.30pm.  On his way to the Boulder Chamber, the leader mistook the route avoiding the Coal Chute.  Instead, he found it and fell off the climb into the Upper Chamber sustaining a Potts fracture to his left ankle.

Dave Irwin was alerted of the call-out by Brenda Prewer at about 3.15pm.  He immediately contacted Chris Batstone at the Belfry and a party led by Tony Jarrett left with medical and hauling equipment.  A radio relay was set up from the cave entrance to the Belfry. The patient was strapped up by Bob Hill and carried out to the awaiting ambulance in about 45 minutes.  He was taken to Weston-s-Mare General Hospital for treatment straight away.

In a letter of thanks, Richard Wright compliments those who helped him and and recalls the morals: “never treat familiar cave with the familiarity that breeds contempt; always look before you leap, and always obey the rules you teach others”.

Saturday 14th November             Wookey Hole Cave

Keith Potter, aged 22, from nearby Wedmore and a medical student at Exeter College, Oxford, drowned when diving to Wookey 20 during the afternoon.  He was a member of the Cave Diving Group and, apparently, had done the route once before.

Martyn Farr, Ray Stead and Keith Potter arranged to dive to Wookey 24 whilst other divers were training with Doctors Peter Glanvill and Tony Boycott in the Show Cave.  Keith was given the benefit of the clear water and chose the Deep Route from Wookey 9 to 20.  Martyn followed along the Shallow Route and found Keith without his gag about 4 metres below the sump pool entering the chamber.  He brought him out and immediately started resuscitation.  Ray then arrived to help but they were unable to revive Keith over a period of about two hours.  Eventually, they returned to Wookey 9 with Keith and were assisted by the two doctors in alerting those concerned. Peter Glanvill retrieved equipment left behind in Wookey 20 the next day.

At the Inquest, Mr. Fenton Rutter, the East Somerset Coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death although exactly what went wrong remains a mystery.  In giving this conclusion, the Coroner noted that explorers throughout history had taken risks, and that the world would be a poorer place without them.

Sunday 29th November   Swildon's Hole

At about 2.30 a.m. a Police Patrol car arrived at the Belfry.  Someone in Bristol had reported that a Mr. R. Lewis had gone caving on Mendip with three young ladies and had not returned when expected.  The Police had apparently driven from Bristol to search for Mr. Lewis' white Marina car. Fiona Lewis from the Belfry (no relation) accompanied the patrol on a search of cave sites visiting Eastwater and Upper Pitts before finding the car on Priddy Green.

Pete and Alison Moody were aroused to start a search of Swildons for the overdue party.  Before this got underway, however, Lewis' party returned safely having spent a lot of time lost in the Upper Series.  It must be noted that the correct call-out procedure through Yeovil Police Was not used by those concerned, nor had Lewis left word of the cave being visited.  Such time wasting would be serious in other circumstances.

Calling out Cave and Cliff Rescuers through M.R.O.

Visitors to caves and mines in Avon, Somerset and Wiltshire should note the following procedures for calling out MRO. Climbers in Cheddar Gorge use the same system to alert cliff rescuers.

In the event of an emergency, go to the nearest telephone, dial 999 and ask for the Police.  When in contact with the Police, request that the Mendip Rescue Organisation is called and give them EXACT DETAILS OF THE INCIDENT, ITS LOCATION AND THE TELEPHONE NUMBER FROM WHICH THE CALL IS MADE. INFORMANTS MUST THEN STAY AT THAT PHONE UNTIL CONTACTED BY A WARDEN OF MRO FOR FURTHER DETAILS ABOUT WHAT HAS HAPPENED.  Whilst a few minutes may seem an age at the time, there must be a short delay before being contacted by a Warden and this is a vital step in initiating a successful call-out.  Please resist the understandable desire to leave the phone after alerting the Police because your personal knowledge gives MRO a better opportunity to organise a speedier response with appropriate rescuers and equipment.  Time must not be wasted.  In almost all cases rescuers will arrive within the hour.

Please note that 999 calls in the region are routed to Police Division Headquarters at Yeovil (Priddy-Wells-Frome), Taunton (Axbridge Cheddar-Charterhouse), Weston-s-Mare (Burrington-Blagdon-Banwell), Bath (Harptree-Bath) and Devizes (Box-Corsham).  All have details of MRO and switch emergency calls for cave and cliff rescues to Yeovil.