A group of 11 cavers from the D.C. and Baltimore Grottos were exploring a "little known" cave in Greenbrier County, West Virginia on May 8, 1976. Three short, climable pitches near the entrance were rigged with segments of a homemade cable ladder and a 72 foot free drop with a cable ladder of commercial construction. To facilitate the movement of this large group, the three short pithces were ladder-climbed without a belay.
Mike Dyas (32), last in line, was descending the second short drop when, about halfway down, the ladder failed. The crimps of the top rung, to which the ladder was rigged, had broken. Dyas landed in a pool of water in a sitting position. He was soaked but uninjured.
On the way out, a caver was on the 72 foot ladder and ten feet from the top when the belay rope became tangled. It took half an hour for the caver to get up the last ten feet.
As Gordon Mothes (late 40's) was laddering the last short pitch the ladder broke. Mothes fell several feet, struck his hand on a sharp edge of rock and received a deep gash near the base of the little finger. He was able to exit the cave unassisted. The laceration later required several stiches.
NSS News, May 1981 (Part 2) V39N5, Page A11.
Mike Dyas "Accident Report" D.C. Speleograph 32:7 July 1976 p 20, 24.
This cave trip demonstrates the dangers both of belaying and not belaying a cable ladder rigged drop. The belay rope can become tangled, creating a bad situation. Still, if cable ladders are used they should be belayed. Home-made or not, it is difficult to tell by visual examination the strength of a given ladder. Even a short fall can be fatal if one lands wrong.