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A BEC Practice Rescue in Rhino Rift.  24th September 1994.


Roz Bateman           BEC (casualty)

Chris Castle             BEC

Sean Chaffey           BEC

Steve Flinders          Hippos

Brian Murlis             BEC (MRO)

Phil Romford            BEC

Dominic Sealy          WCC

Andy Sparrow          BEC

Chris Tozer              BEC

Les Williams            BEC

Organizers:  Phil Romford, Andy Sparrow and Brian Murlis.


To extract a live casualty in a rigid stretcher, from the bottom of the third pitch, using vertical lifting techniques by a safe and easi1y rigged method.  An essential part of this exercise was to involve the above people in using methods that made use of modern equipment and techniques developed in recent years.  We consider this practice to be the first of a series, to both develop the theme, and to involve other club cavers in the technicalities of vertical rescue.  The methods used are a combination of old and new techniques, taking what we considered to be the best of both.

Rhino Rift has one particular hazard to be avoided at all costs; that being the unstable boulder slope at the head of the third pitch.  In order to avoid this hazard we chose to use part of the Right Hand Wall route, from the bottom of the third pitch to the head of the second pitch. The first pitch was hauled direct, via the standard route.  Speed, efficiency, casualty comfort and safety were our major considerations.

The right hand wall route was rigged for SRT down to the top of the second pitch, with a short length dropped down to the ledge on the normal route.  It was found to be a convenient route to get personnel up and down the cave without being in the way of the rescuers.


To assist in the understanding of this, please refer to the accompanying sketch.

The fundamental principle that we adopted was to attach two Blue Water static ropes to the stretcher, but, not to specifically designate one as hauling line and the other as life line. In this system, either rope can be hauled on or used as life line, or indeed both may be deployed in hauling and deviating simultaneously. Hence, it is essential that both ropes are securely tied to the head of the stretcher and, that one or both is extended down to the casualties sit harness, allowing a small amount of slack for comfort.

The casualty was stretchered in the standard MRO manner at the bottom of the third pitch.  One line was taken to the 'safe' area at the head of the second pitch, whilst the other was taken to the eagles nest, 3 way 'Y' hang, out from the top of the second pitch (main hang on right hand route). Both ropes were deviated down to the bottom of the third pitch, through pulleys.  The hauling party at the head of the second pitch used jammers on lanyards, as is standard practice. A counterbalance system and pulley/jammer were set up at the eagles nest, this being simple and very efficient, one average weight person can lift a 10 stone casualty.

The first part of the haul to what can be considered the top of the third pitch, was via two releasable deviations with pulleys for each rope (see sketch).  The lower deviation had approx 4 metres of cord attached using a locked off Italian Hitch; this being released to allow the stretcher to hang below the upper deviation.  The upper deviation had approx 7 metres of dynamic rope, again attached by a locked off Italian hitch.  To this point, hauling was done at the head of the second pitch via a Petzl Gri-Gri rigged as a back stop, the counterbalance system was operative.

 From the head of the third pitch traverse, the stretcher must be transferred laterally by approximately approx 9 metres, so that it is now directly below the counterbalance.  The upper deviation is slowly released whilst the second pitch hauling party act as life liners, and the counterbalance lifts the stretcher. Actually, this is a lot easier than it may sound.  However, there must be one person calling the shots.  The stretcher was then lifted to a point above the lip of the second pitch, from where the counterbalance stops lifting and allows the hauling party to elegantly land the casualty, releasing rope via a Petzl STOP, or similar device, as necessary.  At no time was the angle between the lines allowed to exceed 120 degrees, thus minimizing excessive Tyrolean loadings.

Time of haul 15 to 20 minutes.  Total time to assess methods and best rigging points, and to load/haul the stretcher approx 2 1/2 hours.


The basic system was virtually the same as used on the lower pitches.  The stretcher was rigged identically, one rope was taken directly to the back of the pitch head through a Gri-Gri back stop with 5 haulers using jammers.  A counterbalance and pulley jammer were set up at the pitch head 'Y' hang.  A third rope, used as a guide rope, was attached to the hang bolts and taken down to a thread belay point at the top of the stal slope at the bottom of the pitch.  This guide rope was tensioned up using an Italian Hitch, to ensure that the stretcher was kept well clear of the walls during ascent.  Using the Italian Hitch as an adjuster means that the tension can optimised at all times.

The stretcher ran vertically up the guide rope on a pulley fixed at the head.  As the stretcher neared the pitch head, the guide rope tension was released allowing it to hang directly below the counterbalance. At the pitch head, the stretcher was secured by a cowstail while the counterbalance rope was moved to another 'y' further up the slope.  This ensured double rope protection while manhandling the stretcher over the lip of the pitch.


MRO Mager stretcher and drag sheet

MRO pulleys, 3 off

Blue Water static rope.  2 x 60m + 250m for rigging 

Other rescue pulleys, 4 off

Petzl Gri-Gri

Petzl Stop

Slings, various

Hangers, 30

Karabiners, 20

SRT gear, all personnel

Various lengths of 10 or 11mm line for deviations etc.

11mm line for deviations etc.


The only part that was relatively hard work was, the haul at the head of the second pitch.  With limited hauling personnel, a 'z' rig would offer a 3:1 mechanical advantage.  There was also a good deal of friction on this line where it comes over the lip of the pitch.  It was suggested that a deviation with pulley may improve this, however, it would require further practice to assess this.


The participants were deployed as follows:-

Brian Murlis oversaw the rigging and procedures on the third pitch.

Brian Murlis and Andy Sparrow jointly oversaw the second pitch.

Andy Sparrow oversaw rigging and procedures on the first second pitches.

Phil Romford oversaw stretcher loading, line safety and general safety procedures.

Roz Bateman was a superb, uncomplaining victim.

All other participants were involved at various stages.

Third pitch haul.  4 in pitch head hauling party, 1 at counterbalance, 1 barrow boy, one at bottom of pitch, 3 stretcher  handling at third pitch.

First pitch haul.  1 at counterbalance, 1 stationed mid pitch, 2 at bottom, 5 hauling.


  1. The conventional route down the 2nd and 3rd pitches were avoided due to unstable boulders.  However, if an accident occurred on the 4th or 5th pitches, it may be deemed necessary to rig these pitches to speed up a rescue.
  2. A 3 metre long cowstail attached to the stretcher, with clip in loops every 30cm. would be very useful.
  3. Only a few local cavers are known familiar with the right hand wall route - their support would be invaluable.
  4. A barrow boy accompanied the casualty during the lift up the 3rd pitch only.  On a rescue proper, it may deemed necessary to use a barrow boy at all times.


It should now be clear why the two rescue lines are both static, and not designated for a specific task throughout the hauls.  We have demonstrated that the load is transferred from one line to the other during the haul on the second pitch.

Although our methods were relatively technical, the amount of equipment required is probably no more that required by traditional methods.  Furthermore, the techniques are simple to use, safe, and worked extraordinarily well on this exercise.

Everyone left the cave having learned a great deal, and were appreciative of having had the opportunity to take part.

B Murlis, P Romford, A Sparrow