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Longwood Tragedy

On Saturday, 11th January 1986, about midday, a party of five cavers from South East London descended Longwood Swallet.  The water level was quite high and it is likely that they decided to explore Longwood Series rather than August Hole where the chimney and drainpipe would probably be impassable.  They had explored the Wet Series Passage below the Main Chamber when, on the return, four of the group successfully negotiated the stream passage beneath the chamber.  Atilla Kurucz was the last of the group and on pulling himself up into the chamber, a large slab of rock, weighing about half a ton detached itself, pinning Atilla beneath.  His friends quickly realising the seriousness of the situation were eventually able to wedge the rock up and get him out from underneath it.  He was given mouth to mouth resuscitation and cardiac massage. Within a few minutes another group of cavers from Imperial College arrived and gave valuable assistance. Several people left the cave to raise the alarm at this point (see postscript).  The police at Yeovil alerted the M.R.O. at about 2.00pm.  No details of the incident were available from the police at that time and the informant could not be contacted by phone. Among the first to arrive on the scene was Trevor Hughes, who had been dragged from his pint in the Hunter's and then managed to demolish his car (and someone else's) en route to the cave.  By 3.30pm Trevor and a small party arrived in Longwood Main Chamber. After previous careful briefing by Donald Thomson, the M.R.O. Medical Warden, it was decided that Atilla was in fact dead.

It took another six hours to get him out of the cave, with four teams of cavers being used for hauling. Over two hours were spent in getting him through the bedding plane squeeze near the entrance.  This manoeuvre was only successful when the bag, in which he had been placed, was removed thus allowing his arms to be placed over his head.  Finally a rope puller was used to lift him up the constricted entrance shaft.  The whole operation was over by 10.00pm.

P.S.  Although on this particular occasion a delayed call-out of the M.R.O. would not have made the slightest difference to the outcome of this tragic incident, as Atilla probably died within five minutes of the rock landing on his chest, it should be pointed out that a delay did occur because the cavers sent to raise the alarm did not know where Lower Farm (now known as Longwood Grange Farm) was located.  They, in fact, drove their car to one of the houses near to Manor Farm and received quite a cool reception from the occupant when they asked to use the telephone.  The call out saga didn’t end there, the outcome being that the M.R.O. were not given the full details of the accident.

Longwood Grange Farm can be reached by walking up the valley, following the stream and not crossing the little wooden bridge.  After a few hundred metres (yards for the non-metricated) Mr. Trim’s lawns and farmhouse will be found. Mr. Trim is a very pleasant gentleman and is quite prepared to help out in any emergency situation.  It must be stated however, that under normal circumstances he does not want his privacy invaded or his lawns damaged by cavers.

An additional instruction to the M.R.O. notice in Longwood blockhouse will be put up as soon as possible giving details of the location of the farm.

Brian Prewer.