1995 Expedition: Boca del Joon
Picos de Europa, Spain
Harvey is woken by sounds of distress. Many of you will realise that for Harvey to be woken in the early hours of the morning means that Wlodek must have been very distressed. He had just made it out from underground camp in C3 in less time than most of us take to walk back from the entrance. The story he related was as follows:
Chris Densham and I questioned him carefully, but it soon became obvious that he was very tired, and in need of rest. Perhaps this was because his trip out had immediately followed his trip down(!). We were satisfied though that there was no immediate life threatening situation that wasn't being dealt with underground.
We decided that a rescue would be much more effective in daylight, after some sleep, rather than in the dark at 3am. I got up to check that Wlodek was OK, and talk over a plan with Dave. I shall never forget the look of terror on Dave's face as he squawked and leapt backwards like a startled animal when I open his tent. As he cowered in his sleeping back I explained that it was all right, and there was nothing to worry about, because it was only me. Then I told him about Alex.
Shortly after 6am I heard that Dave was up. Morning had broken, and it was time to let everyone know the situation. The plan was that Dave and Paul Mann would go underground, with essential equipment to assist the party's exit, such as the pre-prepared rescue kits, SRT kit and the necessaries to supply hot food and drink.
Chris and Bill would walk down to Base Camp to inform them that a rescue was on, and send all available cavers (with needed equipment) immediately up to top camp. This to ensure a supply of rested man-power should further rescue parties or back-up be needed. Chris (driver) and Anita were to remain at base, in case it became necessary either to seek additional rescue assistance, or drive Alex to hospital.
Meanwhile Pete and Lesley prepared to make sure that all immediate and potential food and water requirements could be met. John Wilcock accepted responsibility to establish and maintain regular radio contact with Base.
I found myself being surface controller.
The sequence of events was this:
18:00 Alex's tackle bag explodes at bottom of `'Tain't Natural' (-500m)
22:00 Alex reaches underground camp at T3 (-350m)
02:30 Wlodek appears at Top Camp.
07:00 Chris and Bill depart for Base.
08:20 Dave, Paul and Harvey depart for C3.
09:00 Radio contact established with base. All those available asked to walk immediately up to Top Camp, and bring certain items of gear.
09:30 Dave & Paul enter C3. Expected time out: 18:00. Callout 22:00.
11:30 James Hooper and Will Jeremy arrive at Top Camp.
12:50 Harvey & Pete stock entrance with necessaries for exiting parties to eat, drink and sleep. Also, the stretcher. Route to cave well cairned.
15:40 Pete and Lesley depart to man C3 entrance.
17:30 Alex out of cave - thankfully fit, well and only slightly singed.
18:20 Dave out of cave - very weary after an unplanned for arduous trip. Paul and Anette are on their way, expected midnight, callout 09:00. Lamp on ridge to mark path in darkness.
20:00 Alex departs for base and hospital check-up. Arrangements made for James and Will to relieve Paul if he doesn't appear shortly.
21:30 Paul & Anette appear on ridge - rescue now over. Pauline Rigby and Iain Clamp turn up from Base.
24:00 John Pybus and Anita arrive from Base.
So, as is fortunately most often the case, the incident was not too serious. However, I believe the experience of a `real' expedition rescue to have been very worthwhile, and it highlighted the following:
Most importantly, this exercise showed that the careful and serious thought given by OUCC to coping with emergencies allows us to deal efficiently with situations that risk the safety of our members.