Cave rescue teams can be called out for a wide variety of reasons:

  • Explorers, and others, may become lost or may be late in returning to the surface. When you go underground, it is always a wise precaution to tell a responsible person of your intended trip and the time you intend to complete the trip. In the event that you become overdue, that person can initiate rescue action.
  • A caver may suffer a fall of one form or another. These can range from a twisted ankle, a slip on wet rocks or a fall of a great distance.
  • A caver may become exhausted and need help getting back to the surface.
  • Heavy rain can result in water levels rising, flooding a passage causing it to become impassable.
  • Rockfalls may cause cavers to be entrapped.
  • Cavers can become physically trapped in small passages.

You can read more on the causes of rescues in the incident reports on this web site.

Rescue Tasks

Although the primary task of cave rescue teams has always been to search for and rescue those in distress underground, over the years additional tasks have been undertaken. Notably, at the request of the police, underground searches have been made for missing persons or, on occasions, for discarded objects. In addition, the rescue of animals that have become trapped in cave or mine shafts has become an increasing feature of many team’s work.

How to Call-out Cave Rescue

If you need the assistance of a cave rescue team you should dial 999 and ask for the police, then for Cave Rescue.

Action Taken by the Police

  • The police will want to take your name and the telephone number from which you are calling. They will then ask you to stay by that telephone or in the case of a mobile keep it switched on.
  • The police will the contact a controller or warden from the rescue team that will undertake the rescue. Your name and phone number will be passed on.
  • The warden or controller WILL call you back on that phone to ascertain as much detail of the incident and to determine what course of action is to be taken. Please be patient and pass on as much detail as you can.
  • Users of mobile phones should be aware that the controller/warden will phone back and thus be aware of low phone batteries or other problems associated with mobile phones.

Action Taken by the Warden/Controller

  • The action taken will depend on the information received. It could range from asking the police to locate the vehicles of a missing party through to initiating a major callout of the rescue team.

Problems with the 999 System

  • With the rise of both mobile phones and with the centralisation of the 999 landline system, we have occasionally encountered problems with callouts being sent to the wrong place. Cave Rescues do not happen very often – in recent years there has been less than one a week. So the handling centres may well be unfamiliar with the procedure.
  • The call centre should direct your request for cave rescue assistance to the police force in which the incident has happened. You can expedite this in the case of problems by knowing where your callout should be routed. You can see the team page for this information.

What Happens when a Rescue Team is Contacted?

  • With the decision to deploy the rescue team, a number of further decisions have to be made. Included in these is how many people to call, what specialisation of expertise is required, what equipment is required, is support from the fire brigade required, what ambulance service and police support is required. In essence, the warden/controller will, with the co-operation and supervision of the police, direct the rescue from the point of contact by the police to completion of the rescue.
  • The team equipment will be deployed to the site of the incident. One or two of the rescue team members contacted will fetch the appropriate equipment from the store used by the team. Some teams have rescue vehicles – often 4-wheel drive off-road Landrovers – equipped ready to go, so deployment of equipment will be expedited.
  • The controller/warden may ask for other statutory services to attend. This may occur for example in flooding situations. And Mountain Rescue teams may be asked to assist where the cave or mine is remote, or where radio communication may be required.

At the Site of the Incident

  • Exactly who arrives at the rendezvous and at what time depends on many factors – the locations, the difficulties of access, the weather…
  • A controller/warden will arrive quite early in the proceedings. He or she will take overall control at the site for the duration. This controller/warden may or may not be that warden contacted by the police. He or she will want to talk to the contact who initiated the call if at all possible. It will be necessary to get further details of the problem – injuries, detailed location, when the accident occurred and so forth.
  • Whether the police will attend an incident will depend on local policy, and on the nature of the incident. They will always attend when a fatality is involved, and will usually attend when serious injuries are reported. Quite often in other situations, the police will be in attendance should the rescue continue beyond a short period as the situation becomes more serious. In essence, the police over the years have built up a great trust in the ability and management of cave rescues by the cave rescue teams and simply allow them to get on with it.
  • Arrival of the team equipment and arrival of the team will happen sometime after the callout – how long this takes will depend on the distances and on the type of roads to get to the rendezvous. Quite often we have narrow, twisting lanes to negotiate.
  • At the scene, the controller/warden will decide a plan of action and brief the rescue team members. Some examples of rescues are outlined below.

Handling the Rescue

The rescue team can be faced with a number of scenarios for example:

Typical Obstacles in a Cave

Underground rescue has its own unique set of problems. Obstacles such as vertical shafts and climbs often with waterfalls, constricted and twisting passages and squeezes, static and flowing water sometimes completely flooding a passage, mud, loose rock, foul air, route finding and communications problems abound as, of course, does absolute darkness.

Caving is a continually developing sport and each year, new underground systems and passages are discovered and explored providing additional challenges for the rescue teams who must be prepared to go wherever it is necessary to search for missing cavers and recover casualties. Rescue from such an environment requires techniques that are often unique to cave rescue teams and with which other rescue services are normally unfamiliar. In essence cave rescue is a service by cave and mine explorers to other cave and mine explorers who, for whatever reason, require help.

Read more about obstacles that cave rescue has to overcome >>

After the Rescue

After the casualty has been handed over to the ambulance, then the final stages of the rescue have been reached.

All personnel and equipment deployed in the cave must reach the surface. On large rescues, this could be a considerable exercise and take almost as long as the casualty evacuation itself and carries on after the casualty has been handed over.

All equipment must then be returned to the rescue depot or headquarters. It will then need cleaning and checking, and consumable items will need replacing. Often, with the extreme conditions in cave rescue, some equipment will be destroyed or broken beyond repair. This must be replaced as soon as possible, and indeed the busier teams will carry spare equipment in case of breakages.

Debriefing and Reporting

Often a team will debrief following an incident. From this, lessons will be drawn and applied to future incidents.

The team will submit an incident report to the BCRC – this is used to compile the Incident Report.

Contacts with the police

Exactly how much contact with the police depends on the cause of the rescue. Usually, relatives or contacts of casualties must be informed. This may require inter-constabulary contacts if the relatives are outside the area of the rescue.

If a fatality occurs, then the police will always be involved and will want to take witness statements from team members and members of the caving party.