Sump Rescue

||Sump Rescue


The CDG has no constitutional role in cave rescue. If divers volunteer their services to cave rescue teams then they do so as individuals. There are many cave rescue teams in the UK, all of which are represented on the British Cave Rescue Council.

Unfortunately, most active members of the CDG prefer to spend their free time involved in cave diving projects and many are reluctant to train in conventional cave rescue techniques. Consequently, divers who are on the call out lists of their local cave rescue teams are not necessarily competent in basic rescue techniques, even though they may be very skilful divers and experienced cavers. Some Sections of the Group do hold occasional rescue practices but it is debatable whether these are sufficient. A third problem is that cave diving conditions in Britain are often very difficult with frequently bad visibility, many underwater restrictions, and an increasing number of long and deep dives being made in remote locations. All of our main caving areas have long sumps with extensive dry passages beyond in which conventional caving accidents are a real possibility. The Group is concerned that there are probably several of these from which a diver could not be rescued alive. The bar room wag (usually called Murphy) who suggests that any rescue kit should include a loaded revolver may have a point.

Two meetings, in 1986 and 1988, brought cave divers and cave rescuers together for the first time at national level, to work jointly on the serious problem of how to rescue injured persons through long and difficult sumps. The first meeting served mainly to highlight the main aspects of this serious problem. The second one concentrated on practical aspects of such work and examined the progress made in tackling the problems previously identified. Perhaps it is now time for another meeting? Undoubtedly, however, the most useful way to make progress is for small groups of cave divers to approach their local rescue teams and work with them to prepare for major incidents in their own area. There are many problems still to overcome, and the CDG would not consider itself as expert in cave diving rescue techniques.

All rescue work in Britain is the responsibility of the police. Once alerted they are able to call on a variety of resources and specialist teams. In the event of a cave rescue, the police immediately contact a local cave rescue controller who then takes charge of the operation. Where cave divers are involved, an agreement exists that the divers concerned have the final say in what can or cannot be achieved by them.

Victims are never charged for the services of a cave rescue team but many do make donations of money after being rescued. This, along with help from the police (e.g. loan of radios, vehicles, etc) and local fund-raising events (a more social aspect of cave rescue team membership), means that cave rescue teams can be self-funding.

There can be no hard and fast rules about the right or wrong way to perform a cave diving rescue. Individual circumstances will demand different specialized methods in each case and those cave divers who are unfortunate enough to be called to the scene and expected to perform miracles will have to decide which action is most appropriate. They must be prepared to make important decisions on the basis of their own experience and judgement of the particular problems inherent in the situation, and to call for additional help and experience if necessary. They should contemplate the consequences of a poor decision made as a result of not having spent enough time and thought in preparing for such a rescue in their own home area. Underwater cave rescues are at the extremes of cave rescue techniques, and if not handled well may easily kill the victim. All cave divers have a moral responsibility to become involved in sump rescue techniques as a fundamental part of their training. The legal situation with regard to liability and negligence has not really been tested but it is hoped that the legal profession would look kindly on the diver or divers who brought a body to the surface rather than a live person, provided they had exercised the usual due care, attention and expertise. The CDG holds itself up as a responsible, ethical and politically correct organization; to refuse assistance in this most specialized yet very sociable activity is not an option. The following is an outline of (suggested) rescue and safety techniques. This is a very difficult subject to which there are no hard and fast rules. The CDG is very aware of this.

The reader is referred to the account of the British Sump Rescue Symposium of 1986 published in Cave Science Vol 14, No 1