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BEC Rescue Practice – St Cuthbert’s Swallet – 22nd January 2011.  By Estelle Sandford


MCR Wardens

Stu Gardiner(casualty), Dany Bradshaw, Richard Marlow, Mark Kellaway, Paul Wakeling, Nigel Taylor, Adrian Vanderplank, Jude Vanderplank, Rich West,


Hels Warren, Beth Dent, Estelle Sandford, Faye Litherland, Pete Hellier, Toby Maddocks, Greg Brock, Mark Denning, Rob Harper, Bill Combley, Lou Kiveal, Henry Dawson, Gary Kiely, Rich Smith, Ruth Allan, Stephen Newton, Ben O'Leary, Steve Gaunt, Tom Elliot, Neil Walmsley (underground photography), Sarah Payne

Surface assistance

Dave Turner, Stu Lindsay, Slug, Jo Hardy, Claire Havard, Ali Lee, Hannah Bell, Jo Meldner, Rob Bruce, Barry Lawton, Phil Romford (surface photography), Stuart MacManus

Rescue Practice Overview

As the newly appointed BEC rescue reps, Hels Warren and I set about arranging our first rescue practice. I was keen to try and make the scenario as realistic as possible so wanted to keep the exact details of the planned incident a secret from most people until the events unravelled during the day!

A typically drunken BEC party night preceded the event, but as several people had said, it made it more realistic! The morning started with Hels awakening the entire Belfry looking for Tangent, who was actually sleeping on a sofa, and had forgotten the promised oversuit for Hels to borrow; so good job I brought a spare for her! Hels, Stu G and Beth then arrived at the SMCC hut to sneak into St Cuthbert’s in preparation for the scenario. I arrived at a surprisingly lively Belfry with breakfast being cooked and headache tablets being popped in large quantities.

By 10am pretty much everyone who had put their name down to help had arrived, so I put the ‘overdue’ trip on the board to start the scenario. It gave the information of St Cuthbert’s ‘standard tourist trip’ with 3 people with a callout of 10am. The assembled crowd were told that for the purpose of this exercise, Pulpit didn’t exist, the end of the exercise was either 15:00 or Upper Mud Hall and, that the first thing we needed to do was search the cave for our overdue party.

Toby and Pete were to be the two leaders conducting the search and, would go opposite directions around the typical tourist trip to search for the missing party. As part of the search parties we sent Henry, Rob, Ruth and Steve, plus Mark and Bill to take the HeyPhone and first aid kit to Upper Mud Hall. Initially, Jo and Jo were set up at the entrance with a radio and notepad to log cavers into the cave, while Stu L and Claire were given the task of setting up the surface HeyPhone to communicate with underground. MCR warden, Paul, drifted between the surface teams ensuring that the comms had been set up correctly and that correct radio language was being used. Dany and Richard M from the MCR set themselves up inside the Belfry as the central communications base. They used a method of ‘T’ cards on a board to check people and kit in and out of the cave.

The search teams and comms were underground by 10:30am, which was running perfectly to plan! The next underground teams were selected, and at 11am started getting kitted up awaiting the response from underground of what had been found. At about 11:15, the first news from below was relayed. An injured male, Stu G, (simulating being the leader) had fallen about 6m from Fingers Traverse to the streamway below, suspected broken leg and arm, and potential of back and head injuries (although the back and head injuries weren’t part of the ‘plan’ so in this case ignored as it would have complicated the rescue practice with the additional kit and treatment required!). The other two in the party were female, one cold and tired (Beth) but basically OK and one showing symptoms of hypothermia (Hels).

The next teams underground were led by Faye and myself and consisted of Mark from MCR, Gary, Stephen, Ben, Rich, Tom, Sarah, Lou and Neil. Ben, Rich and Tom were given the lovely job of bringing in the stretcher, Neil and Lou were our underground photography team and the rest of us were carrying the Little Dragon (hot air device) and ropes, etc. We soon arrived with the little dragon and set about warming up Hels and Stu and evacuating Beth from the cave (although in reality Beth just joined in with helping with the rescue). By the time the stretcher arrived, Hels had warmed up and recovered and like Beth, for the purpose of reality would have been evacuated, but because it was a rescue practice, she changed sides from casualty to helper. Beth then went up to Upper Mud Hall with Ruth: Beth and Sarah to relieve Bill and Mark from the HeyPhone (as we wanted their muscles for hauling!).

Splints were applied to Stu’s broken arm and leg, and he was placed into the drag-sheet and then onto the metal frame of the stretcher. Henry was given the role as casualty care and to communicate all that was going on to Stu, due to his position in the stretcher and, since he was wearing safety goggles he had limited to no visibility. The stretcher was fairly easily manoeuvred and carried from the streamway and through Everest Passage. The narrow connection into Boulder Chamber was a little more awkward, but was soon achieved. Ascending Boulder Chamber was quite steep, so a lifeline was deployed for safety and the stretcher moved up through the chamber. It was very apparent that more ‘thinking ahead’ was needed to find suitable belay points for life-lining so Faye went ahead to help with this. Initially, there seemed

to be a lot of people assuming ‘control’ – bit of a case of ‘too many chiefs, not enough indians’ but as things became more complex, whoever was at the head of the stretcher or haul rope assumed the role of ‘controller’ and, it seemed to run a lot more smoothly from there on.

We were soon up at Kanchenjunga and heading up towards Pillar Chamber. The narrower passages with drops and climbs meant a lot of good coordination was required, and this was culminated with the final vertical climb up through the slot into Pillar Chamber. Toby assumed the role of chief controller at this point and, the stretcher was finally raised into Pillar Chamber. As it was now 14:30, and the exit out of Pillar Chamber wasn’t the easiest to manoeuvre, we decided that the exercise had already been a great success and to end it there and head out. Stu made a miraculous recovery as soon as released from the stretcher, and even carried part of it out! A couple of additional cavers had come in to help carry kit, and the rest of us shared the kit between us and exited the cave in record time – 20ish loaded up cavers from Upper Mud Hall to the surface in 35mins! – all were out of the cave by 15:20.

After changing and washing kit, we assembled just after 16:00 for a debrief and, while there were a few minor criticisms, the general consensus was that the rescue practice was a great success and achieved exactly what we set out to achieve. From the organisers’ point of view, we felt that all those present worked fantastically as a team and, it was a really enjoyable day. The day was completed with one of Slug’s lovely feasts and more beer! Everything to Excess!

Casualty 1 Perspective – by Stu Gardiner

As a ‘casualty’ I was a little unsure of what to expect, so decided to prepare for most eventualities so packed plenty of warm clothes and food. Then sat 'injured' just off the St. Cuthbert’s steamway with my virtual broken lower leg and broken arm, waiting for the BEC rescue team.

The decision was made not to move into position until we could hear the rescue team approaching, otherwise the cold would have got to us far too soon. However after being sat on the mud floor in the drafting steamway with plenty of layers on, it was not long until I was genuinely cold and shivering .  The little dragon although physiologically warms you up, as soon as you stop inhaling the warm air the cold comes instantly back to get you.

The team carrying the stretcher seemed to take forever to get to me, although in real terms they were very quick. Time seemed to drag on and on, due to just lying there staring at the brown damp walls. Then what seemed like a hundred rescuers lights looking down at me, asked the odd question here and there, such as “Stu – are you still with us” and “Stu – from 1 to 10 how cold are you”, to which I would have to try and make up an answer, so as to make the rescue more realistic.

With the stretcher team on site my broken limbs were quickly strapped with splints and, I was manoeuvred into the drag sheet and then lifted into the aluminium stretcher. My personal caving helmet was removed and I was given a naked helmet (no light), and a pair of goggles which instantly fogged up. This, combined with no light left me virtually blind and all I had to go on was voices.

I was now totally in the hands of the rescuers who were all friends;  I trusted them all with my life, it sounds corny but I honestly did. For the next couple of hours, as I was transported towards lower mud hall, which was ‘an experience’. Everyone around me was now working like a well-oiled machine with orders and ideas being fired around, and all obstacles and problems being overcome in a calm and collective manner.

Henry Dawson was appointed as my point of contact and, he was constantly asking how I was and what was coming, up in terms of transporting me, this was very comforting as due to my lack of vision I could now try and picture the section of cave, which gave me some sense of direction.

Memorable points were Rob Harper checking my teeth like I was a rabbit, Faye Litherland telling me the Octopus joke (it’s a classic), and the best was being told that Mark Denning had told the surface that I was suffering from 'Gingeritus' (I will remember that one mate).

I felt the whole day was a huge success on many levels, mistakes were made but more importantly lessons were learnt from these, and that is why rescue practices are in my eyes vital.  My hypothetical injury was dealt with in a calm and professional manner and, I feel proud in the knowledge that the BEC have the skills and drive to pull off such huge feats of damn right hard work in order to save one of their own.

Casualty 2 Perspective – by Hels Warren (Apparently 34 years old!!!)

From a casualties perspective, it made me realise that even waiting 1 hour and 30 minutes to be found, is enough time to start getting quite cold (even though I had extra thermal layers to normal). I was very glad when I heard Henry’s shouting out to find us. When they arrived at the site of the accident, the search party had no idea what the scenario was, which was great because it was, therefore, more realistic and, that our acting skills had been quite good. I had advanced hypothermia, and after they had understood what had happened to Stu and, had finally noticed me being very quiet and not talking sense (very different to my usual behaviour), I was well looked after by Steve and Toby. They were trying to do their best with limited kit while the rescue kit was being brought down the cave, including Toby running off to the dining room to get me a foil blanket from the Cuthbert’s rescue dump! The only point I got rather scared was when Toby started to unwrap a Mars bar; I had to quickly come out of character and say, “I’m allergic to Mars bars!” as I hate them and it would not have been good to give me one.  After a while I had a dedicated casualty team including Toby (to sit on and raise me off the floor), Ruth (chief nurse and glucose giver) and Henry (little dragon holder and extra warmth).  As a casualty I felt very safe and, that I was being very well looked after, and that if I actually had hypothermia that I would have warmed up and managed to get out of  the cave myself.

MRC Report – by Mark Kellaway

The scenario commenced at 10:00 at the Belfry with an overdue party of three.

Two teams were despatched to search, carrying a first aid kit and HeyPhone to establish underground communications.

The casualties were located just after 11:00 in the stream-way below five fingers traverse, and reports had the male caver with injuries to lower left arm and lower right leg, both females cavers were reported as cold and possibly in early stages of hypothermia.

Further teams were despatched underground with the stretcher and drag sheet, and the little dragon. Once reached, the first female caver was escorted out – as far as mud hall to report via the HeyPhone and then came back as a member of the rescue team.

The remaining female caver was treated with the little dragon, and also ended up joining the team after reporting via mud hall.

The male casualty was splinted and packaged and then carried/dragged/passed out to just short of mud hall, when the exercise ended at 15:00 and all cavers and kit exited the cave, with last caver out at 1520hrs, operations ceased at 1545hrs.

Good teamwork was evident after the team settled into the process of extraction, with lifeline rigged ahead of the casualty and, progress was steady without many stops. Underground team consisted of 21 cavers with 2 on comms and 2 dedicated photographers

On the surface, a team of ten helped set up communications in three main areas. The first area was the main control point, which we set-up inside the Belfry. This would be where all the major operations will be run from. The second post was just outside the Belfry in the lane by the style. This was where we set the surface control Heyphone. Stu L and Claire manned this and, they were responsible for communicating with the Heyphone underground at Mud Hall, then relaying messages to Hunter control, manned by Rich  Marlow and Dany Bradshaw, inside the Belfry.

The third place was set at the entrance to St Cuthbert's. This was put there to monitor anyone going into the cave or coming out. Jo, Jo and Ali manned this post and, they also found themselves monitoring the water levels in both top and bottom dams.

Communications carried on throughout the rescue until all 3 casualties were found packaged, and brought back to the surface, and all cavers were out of the cave.

A debrief was held shortly afterwards, and a number of useful lessons and suggestions were captured and will be circulated around the wardens and raised at the next MCR meeting.

We hope that the people that got involved learned something from the day. It was extremely useful for the MCR to have a practice where we can run full surface control, full comms, and still have enough people to participate in the underground rescue.


On Behalf of MRC– by Paul Wakeling

Please give our thanks for a great rescue practice last Saturday.

The MCR need club practices like last Saturday where we can also practice to our full potential. The turnout was good, and everyone was well up for helping and getting stuck in. There was a great atmosphere and I think the day was a great success.

I hope that everyone got something out of the day and that we have been able to share some of our knowledge with the BEC members.

Next Issue

The next issue of the BB is scheduled for May or early June. The editor is now looking for material for that issue.

The committee would like to gently remind those members that have received an Ian Dear Memorial Fund grant, that they should write up their expedition experiences for this journal.

Write up that article you always intended doing, but never got around to. It doesn't matter how long ago this was. Our new membership would like to know what you did!