A Search for Overdue Cavers
When the callout is made, the controller/warden will have evaluated the situation. In some incidents, we have an idea where the missing party may be; in others we may be told a party has gone caving ‘somewhere in Derbyshire’ (say). In the latter case, some considerable detective work may be involved before underground teams are deployed in over one thousand possible underground sites.
Eventually, the warden/controller will elect to deploy a search party or parties. These will be given instructions to search an area of a cave system, or to follow a particular route through a cave looking for the missing party. In large system where there are known places where people become lost, these may well be the first place to be searched. It is quite possible search parties will be dispatched to more than one cave.
Quite often, a missing party will be found quickly; it is not unknown to meet them on or near the surface, the cavers having under-estimated the length of time required for the trip, or possibly having had difficulty in finding the way through.
Most other overdue parties are found on or near regular spots or on or near the ‘trade routes’ through the caves. Such parties are fed and warmed, then assisted back to the surface. These rescues do not take too long provided the party is fit enough to get themselves out with assistance, as is often the case.
If after searching the trade routes the missing cavers so remain, then the problem intensifies. At this point, it is likely more personnel will be called in. Additional investigations will be undertaken to ensure the cavers are actually in the cave, whilst further searches are planned.
From then on, more searches will be carried out. Hours can turn into days. Some of the British cave systems contain over 50 kilometres of inter-linked passages, often forming a three dimensional maze. So the planning of the search and the debriefing of teams completing their task becomes of paramount importance.
And clearly as time goes on, the physical condition of the missing party will deteriorate.
But it is extremely rare for a missing party not to be found. And when they are found, they will receive medical assistance and brought to the surface.