Cave Rescue, July 4, 1996
Laurel Caverns, PA


"Wendy and Bonnie's Great Misadventure"

At 12:50 15 year-old, 100-pound "Wendy" was part of a fifteen member church youth group exploring in the undeveloped portion of Laurel Caverns. Few in the group had much caving experience. This particular group elected to have a Laurel Caverns staff member direct the trip, and so Aaron Bird (veteran caver and ER-NCRC instructor) was their advisor. 

Other employees John Chenger (ER-NCRC Team Member) and Grant were waiting in the Ballroom for the remainder of their boy scout group to exit the cave. Since Grant was in training, Chenger assigned Grant to Aaron's group as they entered the Ballroom and headed up the Bat Passage. 

As Wendy approached Petit Falls (now with two Laurel Caverns employees nearby) she apparently stood up too fast and hit her head on the ceiling of the cave. It immediately became apparent that Wendy suffered from something more than a simple bumped head. 

Bird decided to send Grant and most of the church group back to the Ballroom to wait while he proceeded to do an assessment. Grant returned to the Ballroom and notified Chenger who was on his way out. Chenger returned to Petit Falls to assess the situation with Bird. 

At 1:06 Chenger began recording notes. Wendy was already wearing a SAM Splint as a makeshift cervical collar. The youth group advisor, Mike Carick, was also immobilizing Wendy's neck by hand. In-between recording Bird's observations, Chenger began treating for hypothermia. It was discovered that Wendy had a previous neck injury from an ice skating incident some months ago. Bird was to stay with the patient while Chenger would exit the cave and arranged the ensuing equipment and personnel requirements. 

Chenger laid a trail of flagging tape on the way out. In the Ballroom, he met and briefed Grant and the waiting youth group. About seven members of this group volunteered to assist with the rescue. Among these volunteers was "Bonnie," another 15 year old. This group will be referred to as "Bonnie's Group" for future clarification. The remainder of the youth group explored some more cave downstream with Grant. Chenger exited ahead of Bonnie's Group, still laying the flagging tape trail through the Flue section of the cave. 

Chenger reached the surface at about 1:40 and had Tim Young (NCRC Basic) call for Ray Savage (NCRC Basic), a local paramedic and a few other local cavers. Meanwhile, Chenger approached his group of boy scouts who were then eating lunch and was able to arrange about fifteen scout volunteers and several adult volunteers to be the future extrication team. 

Chenger returned to the Visitor Center to find Kristen Matak (employee/caver) and Bonnie's Group ready to enter the cave. Bonnie's Group was given the Ferno-Washington basket and accompanying materials and sent to follow the flagged trail back to Wendy. Boy scouts began trickling into the staging area and two older ones were selected to take a cervical collar and IRT pack immediately to Wendy. Matak and two other scouts made up the communications team and also set off almost immediately. 

At 2:02 the phones reached Wendy and were working. At 2:15 Ray Savage (paramedic) and Ed Hoffman (NCRC Basic/EMT) were sent to Wendy. Jeff Bray (NCRC Basic) began taking accurate notes at 2:25. At 2:28 this medical team reached Wendy. 

At 2:30 word was sent about a second injury occurring in the cave. Apparently Bonnie was holding a light for the litter team just below Petit falls and fell off a rock, hurting her hip. Bonnie first told Bird that her right hip was hurt, then later told Savage that it was her left. At 2:34 Bonnie and the underground team determined she could walk out. The underground team requested a second ambulance to standby. Bonnie began walking out with Grant at 2:37. 

At this point two additional EMTs from Markleysburg VFD with NCRC Basic training arrived on the scene and were sent to Bonnie. However, Bonnie either refused treatment or did not say she was injured because at 2:51 she arrived with Grant on the surface. It is worth noting here that Bonnie was able to walk out under her own power in 14 minutes going uphill; while it took paramedics 13 minutes to traverse practically the same amount of cave going downhill! 

Chenger visited Bonnie who at this point was resting in the Visitor Center. Bonnie appeared to be comfortable but tired so Chenger re-called two medics from the cave to handle the surface patient. At 3:11 Ed Hoffman and another Markleysburg EMT arrived on the surface and began treating Bonnie. 

At 2:53 the extrication of Wendy began, directed by Bird. -At 3:1 8 Ed Hoffman called for two ambulances. Wendy's transportation went quickly and uneventfully. Chenger entered the cave with 9 additional scouts to assist through the narrow confines of the Flue, At 3:40 one ambulance arrived with another following ten minutes later. Both ambulances were from Smithfield-Fairchance. At 3:44 Wendy reached the surface. Bonnie left the Visitor Center at 3:55. 

While Wendy was given a traditional ambulance ride to Uniontown hospital, the new surface paramedics treating Bonnie (at 3:40) decided to airlift her to Presbyterian hospital in Pittsburgh. It is rumored at Bonnie said that all she remembered in the cave was waking up crying. Weather this statement is true or not, this was never told to Bird (who did the original assessment), Savage (paramedic who spoke to Bonnie on her way out), two EMTs (as they passed on her way out), Chenger (on the surface), or Hoffman (who treated her on the surface). Bonnie also had a pre-existing hip injury, however our documentation does not give additional details.


The above report was filed by John Chenger to the ER-NCRC.


Just another youth group visiting the underworld known as Laurel Caverns.