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Swan Dike Pot: The Surface Perspective

Saturday April 22nd 2017

Members present: Joseph Smith,  Joshua Young,  Martin Albacete,  Peter Newbery

Report by Joshua Young

As it was nearing our callout time, it was decided that Peter and Martin would head to the surface to delay a call to cave rescue for another hour. At this point we were still confident that with some extra help Joe would pop through with no more bother. As they made their way up the pitch, I went into the squeeze to get an idea of Joe’s situation. I took a few of his items back to the chamber while he put his oversuit back on, before I went back through the trick to join him. We tried a handful of times, with me in various positions trying to help, providing footholds and support from below. In such a tiny chamber, this resulted in some very awkward positions as I got pushed against and fallen on. We started to run out of ideas, and at about this point I started to get concerned about the situation, when I heard voices coming through the tunnel. Peter and Martin couldn’t find the way out. I went to join them at the bottom of the pitch, and we realised that we would not make it out before our 9pm callout. We discussed the situation for a short time, and concluded that, with the whole team knackered and freezing, we weren’t going to get Joe out on our own. Perhaps we did need this callout. Peter agreed to stay with Joe, and I would guide Martin out. We exchanged some equipment and I headed out.

Here, I felt a weird calmness. All the rushing from earlier was no longer required. Rescue was needed, and would be called. The situation was what it was and I accepted that, and realised that there was little more I could do. Myself and Martin made our way out at a steady pace. Martin had some difficulty on the entrance climbs, so I let him know he could rest as much as he needed and take is time, and then abandoned him. I reached the car just as the last light was fading away, and there was complete calm on the hillside, as the stars came out and the last birds were singing. There was zero phone signal, so all I could do was wait for someone to drive by. I distinctly remember the complete calm on the mountain, knowing that this was the calm before the storm, and we were all in for a very long night.

At about 21:40, a CRO member drove up and asked if we were all ok, and I explained the situation and that we did need help. He radioed the details down to UWFRA, and everything was set in motion. “Reminds me of a similar rescue in King pot!” he said. “A German girl I think it was.” I didn’t say anything. In the meantime, Martin managed to drag himself out of the entrance to collapse with some chocolate by the car. We both got changed and sat in the car, waiting and thinking. Just over an hour later, the first vehicles began to arrive. I left Martin in the now warm car, and went up to see what I could do to help. The main thing they needed was information, so I sat myself in the control van and answered all their questions. I explained the exact situation many times over to many different people, and took the first group down to the entrance and advised them where to go. There was an impressive number of volunteers that showed up. I was very impressed with how coordinated and organised everything was, even though there were vehicles and people from both UWFRA and CRO working together, as the cave is very close to the border between the two areas. It’s clear that all the training the volunteers go through really pays off to make actual events run so smoothly. Various groups went down one after another, with miscellaneous communications, drills, and all sorts of equipment that might be useful. More people just kept turning up, as more requests for different equipment came up and more people went down. I later found out that 44 people were involved in the rescue.

We received an offer of a lift down to Clapham at about 1am, as they had left another trailer there with more gear. However, as we were getting things together, Peter finally surfaced. He quickly changed and drove us, very slowly and carefully, down to the CRO depot. Here, we had some tea, warmed up, and began waiting. The night was interspersed with really bad tv, trying (and failing) to get some sleep, and occasionally receiving updates on the rescue effort up the hill. We received news that Joe was finally through the Trick at 04:50, and he joined us as 06:40, exhausted but in a pretty good mood, considering his ordeal.

During that long night of waiting, we did a lot of thinking about where we went wrong, and how this situation could have been prevented. A more thorough analysis can be found in Joe’s report, but what I took away from it is this. The important lesson is to never let personal pride take precedence over safety and common sense. When caving, hyper-optimism is not necessarily a good thing. Never be afraid to turn around, if that is what the situation calls for.

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