For some reason, cave rescue has been on our minds recently, so we decided to attend another practice, this time of the Midlands Cave Rescue Team, at the delightfully named Snailbeach mine in Shropshire. The scenario was a casualty named Mickey, who was 83 years old and had been injured a few pitches below the entrance to the mine and needed recovering by stretcher. This would involve several vertical hauls up shafts, so was a bit more complex than the last rescue practice we’d attended.
Since I couldn’t go underground, I was assigned the job of keeping track of all the entries and exits of people from the mine, and relaying information from underground to the rescue controller in the village hall. Mostly this involved feeling important and talking on the radio, so I felt I was well qualified for the task. Initially it was all go at the entrance to Perkins Level, where I was stationed, but after a while all the teams had gone underground, and communications had been established between the mine and the surface, so I was left to listen to updates on the radio and chat to the occasional rescuer who popped outside for a break.
Meanwhile, underground, Rachel was helping out on the intermediate pitch. The job involved rigging the intermediate pitch so that the casualty could be hauled up to the level and onwards to the pitch above. Because the casualty is hauled and belayed on two entirely separate sets of gear, this operation required a lot of heavy kit. Each set of gear was arranged so that the rope, which was to be attached to the stretcher, was down the pitch, the top of this rope then passed through a pulley at the head of the pitch, then the rope came into the level and was attached to a locking pulley attached to a bolt in the wall. The rope then angled back on itself and was reattached to a pulley, that was in turn attached to a jammer on the rope, to create a Z-arrangement. When the hauling began, one of Rachel’s group was tasked with hauling the rope and the other with moving the jammer up the rope, while a third group member was taking in the safety rope on the belay.
Rachel was tasked with communicating with the group below, the casualty and the chap who was sitting in the rift below at a deviation. When the casualty arrived, he was hauled very smoothly, the only hiccup being when the bolt holding the deviation into the wall pinged out – thankfully the chap in the rift was safely attached to the SRT rope.
Soon enough the casualty was lifted onto Rachel’s mine level and they carried him up to the next pitch. Then they de-rigged and started to head out the cave. Unfortunately there were now about 16 people towards the bottom of the cave and only one SRT rope… so it took quite a while for everyone to exit.
Mickey exited the cave in one piece. Apparently he was quite cold and was feeling a little ropey, but was otherwise rock solid. My last job was to ensure all the rescuers we sent in also came back out before we locked the gate on the level.
On the way home, we spotted a delightful sign outside the local veterinary clinic.