On March 5 two groups were caving in Simmons-Mingo Cave in Randolph County, West Virginia. A group of four were surveying upper level passage near the Ladder Climb. A group of six passed by on their way deeper into the cave while an additional caver who had followed this group in, attached to the group of four.
The group of five eventually found themselves on the same level as the bottom of the Ladder Climb and about 100 feet away. The group of six had meanwhile returned and was negotiating the 20 foot Ladder Climb. As Dick Darnel (30) reached the top he was unable to get over the lip and began yelling in dismay, This brought Stan Carts of the group of five who advised the climber to descend. Darnel started back down, his hard hat falling off in the process being then retained only by the Wheat Lamp cord. When his feet were six feet off the floor, he fell backwards off the ladder, his head narrowly missing a rock ledge nearthe floor. It was 8:20 p.m.
Darnel appeared to be fatigued but unharmed. A pack on his back had cushioned the fall. He was covered with plastic sheeting and warmed with carbide lamps while being allowed to rest.
Meanwhile a hauling system was set up at the Ladder Climb. With some ladder climbing instruction and efforts from the hauling crew, he made it up the drop. With frequent rests, the group of six, followed by observers from the other group, made it to the entrance drop (1 0 feet). There another haul line was set up and all had exited the cave by 12:30 a.m.
John Gantner "A Close Call in Simmons-Mingo" Potomac Caver 26:3 Mar, 1983 pp 46-47.
John Gantner "Accident Report" NSS undated.
Mike Dyas Personal Communication Aug, 1983.
The victim was a novice but the rest of his group were not. The party had become split just before the incident however, when the leader went to retrieve three who had gone ahead. The ladder was climbed without a belay despite the known difficulty in negotiating the lip at the top. The victim had no chinstrap on his hard hat-this nearly cost him dearly despite the shortness of the drop.