Yesterday was the team’s first exercise of the year, so at 0800 I headed up to base. It was to be a day of medical workstations, where we had a number of scenarios to work our way around. We headed off to RAC Corner and spent the day there looking at various scenarios in the biting cold wind and occasional rain, sleet, hail and snow.
By about four o’clock, we were happy with the material we’d covered and were just packing the kit up and getting ready to head back to base after an impromptu snowball fight when the radio crackled into life. Mark stuck his head out of the control vehicle and shouted – and people scrambled for kit and vehicles as the game was on – a callout.
I jumped into the first response vehicle and off we shot up to Porth yr Ogof, an entrance to the Dan Yr Ogof cave complex. We had reports of a female who’d fallen 5m inside the cave entrance. We were pointed at a nearby farm and we quickly set up control in the back yard of a surprised household, as our control vehicle, two landrovers, a police car, an ambulance and an ambulance officer’s car all flooded in. A quick survey of the situation showed that the Air Ambulance was already on scene, but the casualty was
down inside the cave. We asessed the situation and decided that without the proper equipment, it was too dangerous for us to head down inside the cave. One of our members was an experienced caver however, so he headed down to give immediate first aid and to get an idea of what the situation was.
Cave Rescue were quickly on scene, and with the light fading fast, we helped as they rigged up their ropes and disappeared behind the small waterfall into a hole that looked far too small. The Air Ambulance pilot had a quick chat with the Incident Controller and we quickly realised that because the Air Ambulance cannot fly at night, they would have to leave in under an hour. The rescue, however, was likely to take several hours, so they headed back to their aircraft and flew back to Swansea. A quick call to 169,
the RAF Search and Rescue SeaKing based in Chivenor gave us air cover for the incident since we were treating the casualty for spinal injuries.
We settled down for a long wait, providing much-needed oxygen and supplies for the cave rescue team as they carefully extracted the casualty. A sudden call from the Police sargeant at control – they had reports of 3 more cavers overdue from another cave system in the next valley over, initial enquiries were still being conducted. The cave rescue controller looked tiredly at the radio. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Finally, around 2000, we started to raise the casualty out of the cave. As soon as she came out, the Ambulance and RAF paramedics checked her over and we carefully but quickly carried her to the waiting helicopter. The weather had come in by now, which meant that winching wasn’t a possibility. We watched quietly as the SeaKing powered up and took off into the night, the pilots using their night vision goggles to see in the dark.
Getting the rest of the cave rescue team out and all the equipment took some time, but finally everything was being washed down with a hosepipe in the farmyard and it wasn’t long before we headed back to base, with the Cave Rescue lads heading back to the Penwyllt center, although it appeared as though their 3 missing cavers had turned up. Vehicles and equipment were stripped once we got back, all the mud washed off and most of the kit then went into our drying room to dry out. By the time we locked up ready to go home, it was almost 2230, and Mal and I stopped for a take-away on the way home.
Arriving at my house, we had one last surprise in store – Louisa’s car wouldn’t start, so after eating our food, I drove Mal back to Cardiff. When I finally got home, tired, slowly drying out, cold, muddy, oh and did I mention tired? Sean packed me straight off to bed, without much complaint from me. I’m still tired today, so tonight is going to be a night of relaxation and just chilling out.
Update: Just a quick “Hi” to the lads and lasses of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society who arranged this trip.