Underground Report 1 - OFD Rescue

"You're on standby - there's a rescue on."

Paul Stacey and I were just clearing out of the shower at Penwyllt when Vince Allkins stopped us. We'd been for a short, easy trip in OFD Top; now we were in for a long slog underground.

Control made contact with their first underground party at 4:30: it was obvious that this was going to be a major rescue, and they'd need as many cavers as they could find. Student caver Elizabete das Neves had suspected spinal and pelvic injuries after falling six metres into a hole beyond the Cwm Dwr boulder choke. To avoid further damage she would have to be taken out via OFD top entrance.

Annette Price took a note back to Godre Pentre: big rescue, no drinking, call control immediately (Annette would later join the long haul up the stream way). The rest of us scrounged a pile of jam sandwiches from SWCC, as control explained the situation to a local police officer.

"Of course, we'll do anything we can to help," he said. "Just don't ask me to go down there."

Our team leader told us we would need to get down to the scene of the accident as soon as possible. Loaded down with heavy tackle sacks, we started out for Cwm Dwr, and clambered down the entrance climb. Getting my gear through the SAS crawl was horrible. The tackle sack jammed at every opportunity, digging up a wave of pebbles as I cursed my way forwards.

"Keep the pace up - we can rest when we get there."

We pushed on through the boulder choke and over a couple of nasty little climbs - hard caving at flat-out speed, especially when loaded down with rescue kit.

Lizzy was out of sight, at the bottom of a six metre hole. The CRO team began to unpack our bags, assembling a bolting and hauling rig. There was only one problem: the drill didn't work.

The rest of us searched for a natural belays as our leader ordered the molephone operator to pass back a short and extremely clear message about the state of the kit. Very quickly, we were organised into two hauling teams, and briefed on what to do: a steady, even pull, and not too hard.

Surprisingly quickly and easily, we hauled Lizzy from the pit. She was obviously in pain, but her first words were: 'thank you, thank you.' Then she was loaded onto the stretcher, ready for the long trip out.

The haul was a long, hard slog. Constantly we crawled and squeezed past the stretcher, forced into awkward routes over rocks and pits, and pushed against the wall. Then the stretcher would come past, and we would grab and pass, as people shouted: "Get her legs! Someone on the head!"

The poor casualty gasped and groaned - but did not complain - as we lifted, dragged, passed and lowered. There was a short break, as the first doctor arrived, with a backpack of really effective pain control. Then it was on, for hours, towards the stream way.

Paul, Neil Montgomery and I left when the second relief party arrived. Exhaustion kicked in as we struggled back to the surface in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Richard Vidler, who was coordinating the Croydon response, met me as I walked back towards Penwyllt. And as I walked back into the SWCC hut, I was greeted by a lot of familiar people - most of them in caving gear. As I pigged out on sausage and bacon sandwiches, a second shift of Croydon members was getting ready for a long night underground.

Nick Moulton