Cave Rescue, August 29, 1976
Cass Cave, WV


REPORT

On the afternoon of Sunday, August 29, Hans Herron (26) and three companions entered Cass Cave on Cheat Mountain in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. One of the four was experienced, the others were not. Not far into the cave they rigged a 175 foot drop with goldline and made to descend, Herron, with no in-cave vertical experience, was third. At 9 p.m. he began his descent, but became jammed in the initial crevice portion of the drop. He released his breaking hand to force himself through, shoving with both hands. Suddenly he was falling very fast. Instinctively he grabbed the two prussik safeties and prevented their functioning. He dropped for about 100 feet where he struck a ledge, suffering leg injuries. This caused him to release the prusik safeties which stopped his fall. He was then swung to the opposite wall, banging his head, cracking his helmet, and damaging his carbide lamp. Swinging back, he again struck the ledge, badly bruising his ribs. Hanging upside down, he was able to right himself, but then became quite incapacitated by the pain of his injuries.

One companion ascended and cut the the prusik sling which then allowed the rappel to continue, under control, bringing Herron to the bottom. Herron had been hanging, injured, for one and a half hours. Another companion left to get help.

Members of the Marlington Fire Department arrived about midnight and, in turn, called in a Greenbrier Grotto rescue team for technical assitance. The Greenbrier crew arrived around 2 a.m. Monday. Bolts were placed at the top of nearby Suicide Falls, and preparation made to haul Herron out. Luckily, the water flow was low at the time. At 6:30 a.m. the victim was placed in a Stokes litter and made ready to be hauled up the 140 feet.

When Herron had been hauled part way up it was noticed that a boulder was coming loose. He was lowered, made safe under a ledge, and the boulder was dislodged. On the second attempt, two rescuers went up with the litter to keep it out of the falls as much as possible, but part way up the assistants were unable to take the cold and the litter was again lowered. The victim had been protected from the water by plastic bags.

On the third attempt the lift was shifted to the ropes the cavers had used to descend the pit. A rope was tied to the foot of the litter so that those on the bottom could guide it away from the falls and ledges. About 30 feet from the top the litter was moving quite fast and smashed into a ledge. Herron suffered a forehead laceration which later required stitches. A rescuer rappelled down and guided the litter up the last bit.

The evacuation was completed to the entrance at about noon Monday, the rescue taking 15 hours. Herron was found to have a badly broken left leg, badly sprained left ankle, fractured right heel, bruised ribs, gouged right knee, a lacerated forehead, and a bad rope burn. Hypothermia was apparently avoided through the use of heat-packs, warm bodies and plastic to keep the water off.


References

NSS News, May 1981 (Part 2) V39N5, Page A15-A16.

AP report "Maryland Man Trapped Exploring Cave" Hagerstown, Maryland News Sept. 1, 1976.

Jerry Kyle "Accident and Rescue at Cass Cave" D.C. Speleograph 32:10 Oct. 1976 p 11.

Bob Custard "Transcript of Taped Interview with Hans Herron" Personal Report Sept. 23, 1976.

Bill del Guidice "Multi-county Operation Rescues Three from Cave" The Observer (Greenbank Observatory) 17:3 Sept. 1976 p12-15.


Analysis

This appears to be a case of tackling too much with too little experience. It should be noted that the prusik safety slings eventually functioned, possibly preventing a fatality.