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Inside Britain’s most-daring rescue: Caver spent two-and a-half DAYS strapped to a stretcher

A team of 250 rescuers worked around the clock to squeeze through tiny passages in a giant underground human chain after a caver fell into a 900ft-deep cave system.

George Linnane, who is in his 40s, was pulled out of the caves at Ogof Ffynnon Ddu at 7.45pm on Monday after the workers took on 12-hour shifts to move him out of the system on a stretcher. 

Photographs show the rescuers in tight spots as they manoeuvred through the caves to reach the stricken Mr Linnane over the weekend.

After being lifted to the surface the man, who suffered a broken leg and jaw, was clapped and cheered before being helped into a cave rescue Land Rover ready to be transported down to a waiting ambulance. 

The operation, which took 57 hours, was the longest of its kind to be conducted in Wales, and images show dozens of people in caving gear at the site.  

Nearly 250 emergency responders – including the team who saved 12 young Thai footballers in 2018 – were painstakingly transporting the injured man on a stretcher through narrow caverns interspersed with gushing streams and waterfalls. 

The man in his 40s was pulled out of the caves at Ogof Ffynnon Ddu at 7.45pm on Monday after the workers took on 12-hour shifts to move the man out of the system on a stretcher

Rescuers from the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team in the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu cave during the rescue are pictured showing the tighter sections

Rescuers from the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team in the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu cave during the rescue are pictured showing the tighter sections

Rescuers from the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team

A rescuer shows a particularly tight spot

Photographs show the rescuers in tight spots as they manoeuvred through the caves to reach the stricken man

The caver – who is understood to be from Hampshire and was staying in a £9-a-night cottage near the entrance to the caves – fell on Saturday after a boulder came loose in a section of the network known as Cwm Dwr, Welsh for Water Valley. 

Another caver who was with the injured man on Saturday notified police who called in specialist rescuers that same day, but they were not able to free him. The cave system is 37 miles in length – making it Britain’s third longest. 

Julian Carter, warden at the south and mid Wales rescue team, said the site where the injured man was dry but dark and they had focused on keeping him warm and a floating stretcher was used as teams moved the man along an active stream way.

He said: ‘It has been a challenging rescue because of where this person was we couldn’t take them out of the nearest entrance. The care has been excellent. We’re very good at keeping people warm and avoiding hypothermia.’ 

On Monday rescuers – who were working 12-hour shifts to carry out the ‘arduous’ task, said he was ‘in a bad way’ and was ‘lucky to still be with us’. His injuries are not life-threatening.   

After being lifted to the surface the man, who suffered a broken leg and jaw, was clapped and cheered before being helped into a cave rescue Land Rover ready to be transported down to a waiting ambulance

After being lifted to the surface the man, who suffered a broken leg and jaw, was clapped and cheered before being helped into a cave rescue Land Rover ready to be transported down to a waiting ambulance

The operation, which took 57 hours, was the longest of its kind to be conducted in Wales, and images show dozens of people in caving gear at the site

The operation, which took 57 hours, was the longest of its kind to be conducted in Wales, and images show dozens of people in caving gear at the site

Nearly 250 emergency responders - including the team who saved 12 young Thai footballers in 2018 - were painstakingly transporting the injured man on a stretcher through narrow caverns interspersed with gushing streams and waterfalls

Nearly 250 emergency responders – including the team who saved 12 young Thai footballers in 2018 – were painstakingly transporting the injured man on a stretcher through narrow caverns interspersed with gushing streams and waterfalls

The caver fell in the part of the caves known as Cwm Dwr – Welsh for water valley – not far from the entrance where he went in. But he could not be taken back out that way because of his injuries.

Rescue team had to inch him through another route past caving landmarks called Marble Showers and Great Oxbow to reach the surface at a mountain spot called Top Entrance. 

Seven other specialist teams travelled from across the UK to join the rescue effort with equipment vans from across Britain.

He was left unconscious for ‘some time’ and suffered suspected spinal injuries, a compound fracture to his leg breaking both his fibula and tibia, broken breast bone and collar bone – as well as suffering a broken jaw, mouth injuries and lacerations to his neck. 

It is understood the man initially fell around 50ft from a ledge before grabbing on to a boulder to break his fall. But the boulder gave way, causing him to fall even farther. It then landed on top of him and knocked him out.

One rescuer said: ‘He was also unconscious for some period of time and that is also very worrying because of how far he fell. I understand he came down with the boulder and that made things worse.

Seven other specialist teams travelled from across the UK to join the rescue effort with equipment vans from across Britain

Seven other specialist teams travelled from across the UK to join the rescue effort with equipment vans from across Britain

Commenting on the condition of the rescued caver, the emergency services liaison officer Gary Evans said that the rescued man was 'doing remarkably well' considering how long he had been in the cave for

Commenting on the condition of the rescued caver, the emergency services liaison officer Gary Evans said that the rescued man was ‘doing remarkably well’ considering how long he had been in the cave for

‘Doctors have been sent down with bags of pain relief. He is on some pretty strong stuff and being treated with a nasal cannula.’

Following the rescue the man was to be transported to Morriston Hospital in Swansea via air ambulance, but the wet weather meant the helicopter could not land. 

Commenting on the condition of the rescued caver, the emergency services liaison officer Gary Evans told the BBC: ‘The casualty’s doing remarkably well when you consider how long he’s been in the cave, how long he’s been in the stretcher, he’s doing very well indeed.

‘He’s being assessed at the moment and we’ll know more in a short while.’

One rescuer said: ‘He is extremely lucky to have survived the fall. He was unconscious for about a minute and was in hell of a lot of pain when he came around. Two of the rescuers are accident and emergency consultants so he’s in good hands. He’s had loads of morphine and they have fitted a cannula to get fluids into him.’

Another said: ‘He was also unconscious for some period of time and that is also very worrying because of how far he fell.

Working in shifts, some 250 workers (pictured) moved the man out of the cave system on a stretcher

Working in shifts, some 250 workers (pictured) moved the man out of the cave system on a stretcher

Pictured: A group of the rescue workers are briefed on the mission ahead of entering the cave system earlier Monday

Pictured: A group of the rescue workers are briefed on the mission ahead of entering the cave system earlier Monday

‘I understand he came down with the boulder and that made things worse.’  

The man’s rescuers were from Gloucester Cave Rescue Group, Midlands Cave Rescue Organisation, Derbyshire Cave Rescue Organisation, Mendip Cave Rescue, South East Cave Rescue Organisation, Cave Rescue Organisation, and Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association.

The South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team were called to use their specialist knowledge to help in the 2018 rescue from the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave when the Wild Boars junior football team became trapped.

The team members were underground for 18 days before being freed and the first voice they heard was Welsh caver John Volanthen.

The rescue team – a registered charity – was set up 1946 to support cavers exploring caves in the Swansea and Neath areas but expanded to cover emergencies across Wales.

They were also involved in the tragic search for missing schoolgirl April Jones. 

An earlier statement from the cave rescue HQ said: ‘On Saturday a male caver was undertaking a trip in the Ogof FD cave system and fell, resulting in injuries that meant he could not exit under his own steam.

‘A fellow caver notified the police and the South and Mid Wales Cave Resuce team initiate a response.

‘This incident is on-going and involves teams from across the UK.

‘This incident has continued during the night. We are moving the casualty toward the top entrance of the cave which is located up on the mountain.’

The caver was unconscious for 'some time' and suffered suspected spinal injuries. Pictured are rescue workers by the cave entrance Monday

The caver was unconscious for ‘some time’ and suffered suspected spinal injuries. Pictured are rescue workers by the cave entrance Monday

Rescue teams are pictured Monday gathering outside the entrance to the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu cave system in an isolated part of the Brecon Beacons

Rescue teams are pictured Monday gathering outside the entrance to the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu cave system in an isolated part of the Brecon Beacons 

The length of the caves and presence of features like underground rivers made the rescue particularly difficult (pictured are rescuers near the cave entrance Monday)

The length of the caves and presence of features like underground rivers made the rescue particularly difficult (pictured are rescuers near the cave entrance Monday) 

The teams are working in 12-hour shifts in cold and damp conditions – and expect the rescue mission to go ‘slowely but carefully.’

The caver was given medical treatment underground and other cavers stayed with him while the rescue plan was put into place. One caver said: ‘It is going to be a slow process but we are confident we can get him out for medical treatment.

‘We work on the basis that it will take ten times longer to get him out than it took him to get there. So if it took him three hours to reach the spot where he was injured then it could take us 30 hours to bring him back. It is all about safety and doing it properly.’

A regular caver said: ‘It’s a well known cave system, very popular with cavers and it is in the middle of a nature reserve. It’s a really popular cave system, usually recommended for more experienced cavers rather than novices.

Paul Francis, one of the oldest cave rescuers taking part, and who is responsible for the discovery of parts of the cave, called the incident ‘an unfortunate, chance accident’.

‘This incident is a one-off,’ he said. ‘Although this is a world-class cave system. It’s Himalayan by cave standards, it’s a fairly safe area. You’re more likely to be knocked down by a bus than this happening to you.’ 

The Ogof Ffynnon Ddu system was discovered by the South Wales Caving Club in 1946, according to Natural Resources Wales. Pictured here is are the South & Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team in the caves on a training exercise

The Ogof Ffynnon Ddu system was discovered by the South Wales Caving Club in 1946, according to Natural Resources Wales. Pictured here is are the South & Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team in the caves on a training exercise 

Picture shows the entrance and exit hole of the cave which rescuers used to save the man

Picture shows the entrance and exit hole of the cave which rescuers used to save the man

Rescuers near Penwyllt, Powys in the Brecon Beacons, where weather conditions were cloudy with limited visibility Monday

Rescuers near Penwyllt, Powys in the Brecon Beacons, where weather conditions were cloudy with limited visibility Monday

A map showing the enormous case system, which features several underground streams and waterfalls

A map showing the enormous case system, which features several underground streams and waterfalls

An ambulance was pictured at the scene on Monday standing ready to treat any casualties

An ambulance was pictured at the scene on Monday standing ready to treat any casualties

The caves were discovered by the South Wales Caving Club in 1946, according to Natural Resources Wales, with underground streams and waterfalls.

They can only be accessed by cavers with a permit from the caving club and are the third longest cave system in the UK.

The guide to the cave system is described as ‘classic in the UK, with passages that provide everything from huge chambers, beautiful formations, to yawning chasms and thundering river passages.

‘The routes though the cave are too numerous to mention.’

It adds: ‘Be aware that the mainstream and some other parts of the cave are prone to flooding, and in any event a journey down the mainstream is long and cold and wet, so go prepared.’ 

‘I’m mighty glad to be out of there’: First words of caver rescued following fall in the Brecon Beacons are revealed as MailOnline retells the epic story of how the stricken man was carried back to the surface

By Rory Tingle, Home Affairs Correspondent, for MailOnline 

When a caver fell 50ft from a ledge deep under a windswept mountain in the Brecon Beacons, it set off an incredible chain of events that saw rescuers from across Britain rally together to save him in one of the most arduous missions of its kind.

Working in 12-hour shifts up to 900ft underground, some 250 fellow cavers painstakingly carried the man out of the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu cave system through a dark labyrinth of twisting passages as narrow as their shoulders interspersed by gushing streams and waterfalls.

The near 57-hour operation – believed to be the longest stretcher carry in British history – finally ended at 7.45pm last night when the casualty, said to be in his 40s and from Hampshire, was brought to the surface and applauded by exhausted rescuers before being taken to hospital by ambulance.

His first words were, ‘I’m mighty glad to be out of there’, a bystander told MailOnline.  

He was said to be in good spirits and will survive the ordeal, which left him with a suspected spinal injury, a compound fracture to his leg breaking both his fibula and tibia, broken breast bone and collar bone – as well as a broken jaw, mouth injuries and lacerations to his neck. 

Below we retell the epic story of how the stricken caver was carried back to the surface. 

CAVER FALLS FROM LEDGE 

Saturday – Around midday

Up to 900ft underground 

The caver falls at least 50ft near the Cwm Dwr entrance to the cave. He is believed to have slipped off a ledge before grabbing a boulder to break his fall. 

But the boulder gave way, causing him to fall even further. It then landed on top of him and knocked him out.

One of the rescuers says: ‘He is extremely lucky to have survived the fall. He was unconscious for about a minute and was in hell of a lot of pain when he came around.’  

He suffered suspected spinal injuries, a compound fracture to his leg breaking both his fibula and tibia, broken breast bone and collar bone – as well as suffering a broken jaw, mouth injuries and lacerations to his neck.   

A file photo of a drop near the section in the cave system where the caver fell and was seriously injured

A file photo of a drop near the section in the cave system where the caver fell and was seriously injured

EMERGENCY TEAMS ALERTED

Saturday – approx 1pm  

Another caver who is with the injured man notifies police, who call in specialist rescuers that same day. 

The rescuers reach the caver but he is too hurt to be moved. It is also decided he cannot be evacuated from the Cwn Dwr entrance due to the nature of his injuries. 

Instead it is decided he will have to be stretchered through another route past caving landmarks called Marble Showers and Great Oxbow to reach the surface at a mountain spot called Top Entrance. 

The spot where the caver fell does not have a significant amount of standing water, but the atmosphere is cold and dank. 

The first priority is to keep him warm using blankets and heat packs to avoid hypothermia. Two of the rescue team are understood to be A&E consultants. 

He is fitted with a canula and given fluids and morphine. He is described as in his 40s, from Hampshire, and had been staying in a £9-a-night cottage near the entrance to the caves. At 37 miles in length they are Britain’s third longest.   

HUNDREDS MOBILISE FOR RESCUE  

A huge mobilisation effort begins which sees 250 specialist rescuers, fellow cavers and mountain rescue teams flock to Ogof Ffynnon Ddu to help with the rescue. 

The rescue mission is led by the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team – who previously helped save 12 young Thai footballers and their coach from flooded caves in July 2018.

Seven other specialist teams travel from across the UK – as far away as North Yorkshire and Essex – to join in and offer their equipment.  

Cave rescue team member Julian Carter said: ‘We know how to handle these situations.’

Another rescuer says: ‘It is going to be a slow process but we are confident we can get him out for medical treatment.

‘We work on the basis that it will take ten times longer to get him out than it took him to get there. So if it took him three hours to reach the spot where he was injured then it could take us 30 hours to bring him back.

‘It is all about safety and doing it properly.’

Seven other specialist teams travel from across the UK - as far away as North Yorkshire and Essex - to join in and offer their equipment. They are pictured near the entrance to the Ogof Ffynon Ddu caves

Seven other specialist teams travel from across the UK – as far away as North Yorkshire and Essex – to join in and offer their equipment. They are pictured near the entrance to the Ogof Ffynon Ddu caves

PAINSTAKING EVACUATION 

Teams work 12-hour shifts in the exhausting task of carrying the caver on a spinal board through a two-mile network of twisting passages as narrow as their shoulders interspersed by gushing streams and waterfalls. 

‘Think about it like crawling under your dining room chairs,’ one caver tells The Times after eight hours underground. 

Rescuers kept ‘treats’ in their helmets to keep their spirits up

Rescuers are seen carrying the injured caver one a stretcher through the cave system yesterday evening

Rescuers are seen carrying the injured caver one a stretcher through the cave system yesterday evening

Rescue workers operated in shifts, passing the man on the stretcher through the cave system - which is the third longest in the UK

Rescue workers operated in shifts, passing the man on the stretcher through the cave system – which is the third longest in the UK

The teams winch the heavily-sedated casualty up specially constructed rescue routes with ropes secured by bolts. 

A floating stretcher is used as teams move the man along an active stream. 

Rescuers describe the casualty as being ‘in a bad way’ and say he is ‘lucky to still be with us’. 

A total of 250 people are involved with up to 70 underground at any one time. 

‘I’M MIGHTLY GLAD TO BE OUT OF THERE’  

7.45pm Monday November 8  

Altitude – 1,217 ft 

The victim is extracted from the cave at the top entrance of the cave system some 56 hours and 45 minutes after the rescue began. 

He is clapped and cheered by rescuers before being helped into a cave rescue Land Rover ready to be transported down to a waiting ambulance. 

The casualty is described as being ‘in good spirits’ and his injuries are not life threatening. He is heard saying, ‘I’m mightly glad to be out of there.’  

The caver was clapped and cheered by rescuers before being helped into a cave rescue Land Rover ready to be transported down to a waiting ambulance

The caver was clapped and cheered by rescuers before being helped into a cave rescue Land Rover ready to be transported down to a waiting ambulance

Mountain rescue attend but thick fog, rain, wind and darkness mean the man cannot be airlifted to Morriston Hospital in Swansea by helicopter. 

The operation is the longest of its kind to be conducted in Wales.  

Several South Wales Ambulance Service vehicles are also in attendance, including a hazardous area response team who are trained specifically to deal with large-scale incidents.

They have supplied rescuers with oxygen cylinders to take into the caves. 

One rescuer says: ‘It was bloody hard work. But well worth to know he is out and alive – it could have been any of us in there. It is good to know there are cavers who are your mates to save your life.’      

The operation, which has taken 56 hours and 45 minutes and spanned nearly three days, is the longest of its kind to be conducted in Wales

The operation, which has taken 56 hours and 45 minutes and spanned nearly three days, is the longest of its kind to be conducted in Wales 

Paul Taylor, a fellow member of the caving team, said: ‘As he was being stretchered from the mouth of the cave to a waiting ambulance, he managed to get a few words out. 

‘He said ”I’m mighty relieved to be out of there.”. 

‘Thank goodness he made it. He was exhausted, of course, and he’d broken his leg, so he wasn’t exactly jumping around and flapping his arms in the air, but he clearly felt that sense of relief.’ 

Mr Taylor said the rescue crew used ‘cabling’ to communicate with the victim as throughout the operation to locate him and get him to safety. 

He explaiend: ‘Cabling works on induction – a bit like when you can manipulate iron filings with a magnet. It enables you to send text messages underground through rock, even though there is no phone signal.

‘This enabled the rescue team to assess his condition and keep him informed as to what they were doing and how close they were to getting him out. 

‘The guys were tireless in their efforts to get him up and we are all so very grateful to them for their heroics. They’ve saved his life.’ 

The operation, which has taken three days, is the longest of its kind to be conducted in Wales, with the man originally planned to be transported to hospital via air ambulance, but the wet weather meant the helicopter could not land. The man has instead been brought down from the cave entrance and is being transported to hospital by car

The operation, which has taken three days, is the longest of its kind to be conducted in Wales, with the man originally planned to be transported to hospital via air ambulance, but the wet weather meant the helicopter could not land. The man has instead been brought down from the cave entrance and is being transported to hospital by car


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