Cave Rescue, July 13, 1997
Hell Hole Cave, WV


This is a preliminary report done on July 14, 1997.

At 10:00 AM on Saturday July 12, 1997 four cavers entered Hell Hole Cave in Pendleton County, West Virginia on a Special Survey trip to survey a new section of the cave that was found during the March Bat Count. At approximately 11:00 PM on Saturday, after surveying approximately 2,500 feet, one of the cavers suffered a compound fracture of the tibia approximately four inches above the ankle.

After the incident Gordon Brace and one other caver exited the cave to go for help. At approximately 3:15 AM notification was made that a caver was injured approximately 1 mile into a new section of Hell Hole cave and a litter extraction would be required. For the next couple hours cavers from a multi state area were notified and slowly started arriving on the scene to size up the situation. It was assumed that this would be a multi-day rescue, due to the type of injury and the nature of the cave, so over one hundred caver rescuers were called in.

At approximately 6:00 AM the first cavers started entering the cave to size up the situation. The site of the incident is approximately 1 mile into the cave and required the average caver approximately 2 hours to get to and another three hours to exit from. The exit time is longer mainly due to the entrance pit of Hell Hole which is a little over 150 feet in depth.

Around 10:30 AM the first medic arrived at the patient and sized up the injuries. At this point the injured party had self rescued partially from the cave.

During all this time cavers were arriving on the scene and doing the many tasks that would be required to get cavers into and out of the cave along with performing the extrication. A massive hauling system was set up over the entrance pit that allowed two cavers and gear to be hauled out of the cave at a time. This cycle took approximately 9 1/2 minutes which drastically cut the exit time from the cave.

Another major effort was taken to enlarge some of the passages within the cave with a K-12 rock cutting saw. This effort was required to make the passage large enough for the extrication.

The patient was finally hauled from the entrance pit at approximately 10:45 PM Sunday to an awaiting ambulance that took him to Elkins General Hospital.

The final cleanup and demobilization by cavers took until early Monday morning. Approximately 135 cave rescuers arrived at the scene from a 300+ mile radius from the cave with many more on standby.


Doug Moore, preliminary report of the ER-NCRC Web Site, 11/14/97.


Luckily, the patient was able to perform a self rescue most of the way out of the cave, walking and crawling on the broken leg with assistance. If it had been any other person this rescue would have lasted several days and required several hundred rescuers.