Extract from "Caving Practice and Equipment"

Expedition Rescue

For expedition caving, self-help may be all that is available. In new territory with unknown hazards, the uncertainty of the flood risk, the likelihood of unstable rock, a new system and the need for long, tiring trips, where pressure to extend exploration could cause a compromise on safety margins, are all factors which could increase the accident risk. Perhaps the experience of those involved and the knowledge that only the expedition's resources are to hand have contributed to the remarkably good safety record of British expeditions.

With dozens of trips leaving each year to worldwide locations few serious accidents seem to have occurred. The 1970's saw three British deaths in northern Spain, one to a cave diver, one owing to an SRT rope failure and the third to a caver who fell while unprotected. A grave injury also occurred to a caver in New Guinea.

In the 1980's a young British caver disappeared in the Gouffre Berger in France. Despite an extensive search and a tremendous effort by French rescuers, his body was not found until the following season when he was found to have been killed instantly by rockfall.

Throughout this decade more British cavers than ever have travelled to remote spots worldwide without any other fatalities known to the writer.

A nine member Cambridge University Caving Club expedition set us all a fine example in the late 80's. In Austria in a technically awkward vertical cave, one of their members broke her femur, or thigh bone, just beyond a tight rift 140 metres underground. They did not know if an underground rescue team was available so sent for help in case it was and set about self rescue. Immobilising a fractured femur without equipment designed for this purpose is far from easy, but by improvising with the detachable struts from Karrimor rucksacks they managed it. To call their victim determined is probably an understatement, but by the time the Austrian cave rescue team arrived she was more than half way out of the cave and progressing very well.

Unbelievably, after this saga another of their number broke his pelvis in a fall at the same spot and without thinking about it they quietly rescued him! What an example to those who cave in the UK and a reassurance to expedition cavers.