At 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 31 Ralph Kennedy (28) and Patty Mothes entered Canadian Hole, a part of the Friar's Hole System in West Virginia. They were wearing wet suits and had vertical gear for the drops in the cave and a proposed bolt climb to an unexplored high lead.
They rappelled the first drop (44 feet) and down-climbed the next two short ones. All were rigged with cable laders. The third drop took them directly to the top of the fourth drop, (25-30 feet). There water rained down. A cable ladder was rigged and a rope was tied to the last rung of the ladder on the previous drop. Mothes checked the rope rig and thought it to be OK -- Kennedy gave it a cursory look and got on rappel. As he eased over the edge, the knot came undone and Kennedy fell free to the bottom.
Kennedy landed feet first suffering severe injury to his right foot and ankle. Trying to stand, he found he could put no weight at all on that foot. It was quickly decided that the situation was potentially hypothermic and that Kennedy could prusik using his left foot in a Texas system. The rope was tied to the ladder, hauled up, and re-rigged. The two then carefully made their way out, Kennedy needing some assistance at the third drop. The victim was later found to have suffered three broken bones in his right foot and a severely sprained ankle.
NSS News, May 1981 (Part 2) V39N5, Page A29-30.
Ralph Kennedy "Accident Report" Baltimore Grotto News 16:7 December 1977 p 51-2, 55.
Kennedy reported that he was anxious to continue due to the wetness at the top of the drop. The rigging was that of Canadian cavers who commonly climb up and down cable ladders with a belay, rather than rapel and ascend (prussik) a single rope. The rope was thus intended to be used as a belay rope and was tied to the lowest rung of the previous ladder only for convenience, with what Kennedy described as a slip knot. It was not inteded to be used for rappel. Whatever the knot was, it was obviously tied only loosely. Kennedy seems correct in his analysis that the accident was due to carelessness and mixing of two rigging styles.