Cave Rescue, November 1, 1986
Carpenter-Swago Cave System, WV


At about 3 p.m. Saturday, November 1, a group of five cavers entered the Swago Pit Entrance of the Carpenter-Swago Cave System in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. These were Ryan Carlson (18), the leader, Dan Zeman (16), Thorin Bianco (19) and Jeff Ewers.

The leader had two to three years caving experience, the rest little or none, though one was a rock climber. They had rented helmets and lights (two Justrite electrics and three carbide lamps). For vertical gear they had three Figure-8's and one set of Jumars. They left word of their destination with Ewer's wife but did not get permission from the landowner. The weather outside was described as a "lingering rainstorm." They had Xerox copies of a map of the cave.

They rigged the 50 foot entrance drop as far from the waterfall as possible and proceeded down. About 200 feet further in is a 30 foot waterfall. Here there is a by-pass to a higher, dry rig-point. They did not find this and had to rig the waterfall; all rappelled down, getting soaked in the process. A 300 foot dynamic rope was used for both drops.

The group continued through the Sewer (one to two feet of air space) and spent several hours exploring the main, dry part of the cave. At 10 p.m. they returned to the base of the entrance pitches.

Meanwhile it had been raining and the flow had increased. None could climb the rope as rigged. Finally, Zeman, the rok climber, rigged the rope for a diagonal Tyrolean traverse ascent and was able to climb out. He found the dry bypass above but considered it too exposed to use to re-rig the rope.

Zeman decided it was too dangerous for the others to attemp climbing up the waterfall and so pulled up the rope. He yelled for them to go back to the dry part and wait. He then Jumared up the entrance pit and went for help.

The others were cold and tired. They had little food, were dressed in cotton and were of small, thin stature. They proceeded to burn their spare carbide in the open to gain warmth.

At 1:30 a.m. Zeman contacted the West Virginia State Police at Marlinton. At 2:30 a.m. they got hold of Jerry Kyle. The word was spread and at around 6 a.m. properly equipped cavers began arriving at the entrance. At 6:44, wet-suited rescuers entered with sleeping bags, blankets, hot drinks, heat packs, and food. They re-rigged the drop and at 7:30 a.m. reached the victims.

At 9 a.m. the first victim was hauled up the 30 foot drop via the dry bypass. The last exited the cave at 10 a.m. They were examined at the Pocahontas Memorial Hospital and released.


NSS News, November 1987 (Part 2) V45N11, Page 393.

Jerry Kyle "Rescue at Swago Pit" The West Virginia Caver 4(6) 12-86, p 20-21.

George Dasher Personal Communication 11-14-86.


The group was very poorly equipped for wet caving. Still, when things went bad, they made some good decisions and this may very well have prevented a fatality. The use of their spare carbide was very inefficient. Going in a waterfall entrance in bad weather is very foolish.