A Caver Has Fallen
When a call comes for a caver who had slipped or fallen, the rescue team knows that they could well be dealing with an injured caver. If a doctor is available, he or she may well be contacted in the early stages.
(Note that many cave and mountain rescue teams include doctors on the strength and they may well take on the role of the doctor at the scene, but equally they may be called up as a member of the normal team strength.)
The team will deploy to the site of the accident, and medical and associated equipment will be shipped to the site of the incident. This could be a considerable distance underground and require difficult caving to get there. Cavers are used to travelling ‘light’ – they will take minimum equipment to complete a cave safely. In a rescue, not only do you have such personal equipment to carry, but you have the rescue kit as well. In most cases, a rescue team will wish to re-equip a cave since a failure of the party’s equipment may have been the cause of the fall.
The first party to arrive at the site of the accident will assess the casualty. Remember the accident will have occurred some considerable time ago – and often well past the Golden Hour defined in paramedic circles. So the casualty will not only be suffering from injuries sustained in the fall, but will be cold and possibly be hypothermic. Casualty care type first aid will be given – this will include pain relief, splinting, dealing with bleeding, insulation from the cold and many other aspects of care.
In less severe falls, the casualty will be encouraged to make his own way out of the cave – often with considerable assistance from the rescue team over and around the obstacles in the cave. This is very much the preferred option since it will hasten the casualty’s return to the surface and to hospital quality medical care. And in some of the most difficult and remote caves assisted evacuation the only option because you cannot use a stretcher.
In many cases however, it will be necessary to carry the casualty out in a stretcher. This occurs particularly in the case of head, neck or spinal injuries where the dangers of further, irreparable damage may occur. Cave rescue teams have an excellent record in dealing with such injuries. In the event, a stretcher carry is a difficult and arduous job, potentially taking many hours. Look at the section describing the obstacles we encounter in the section below.
During the evacuation, it is vital to monitor the state of the casualty in an attempt to prevent deterioration of the casualty’s condition. Frequent short rests will occur whilst the team arranges the next section of the cave.
During this time, regular communications with the surface will be made. Reports on the condition of the casualty will help the controllers decide on deploying further teams and equipment.
Cave rescue teams are extremely grateful to the ambulance paramedics that assume responsibility for the casualty on the surface, and also for the services of the Royal Air Force rescue helicopter, to which several cavers owe their lives.
Main images: Fallen Caver by Richard Vidler & SECRO