Ataround 3:45 p.m. on November 28, a group of seven cavers entered the Fullers Entrance of the Culverson Creek Cave, a 20.8 mile long system in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. In early November the eastern part of the State had received record rainfall causing extensive damage and flooding. Greenbrier County was north of the storm center but received heavy rain also. It had rained the day before. The group had intended to do Friar's Hole but because of high water had changed to a cave less likely to flood. None had been in Fullers previously.
The entrance passage is a five to eight foot wide canyon with a six to twelve inch deep stream flowing swiftly in over small, loose rock slabs About fifty feet inside is a boulder five feet high, seven feet long, two feet wide at the top and four to five feet wide at the bottom, in the center of the passage with the stream tlowing by on the left, looking in. thus the slope of the floor at that point was to the left, The route past the boulder was either walking in the stream to the left with the narrowest point being some two feet wide, or climbing over the lower slope of the rock where it neared the wall on the right, The left-hand route was thus a corridor between the vertical wall of the rock and the vertical wal of the cave.
At 3:50 p.m. three cavers passed this rock and three more were in the process two on the left with Eric Tsakle (26) in the lead and one to the right. As Tsakle reached the center of the boulder, it suddenly tilted to the left. They tried to stop it and failed, leaving Tsakle pinned by his head in a standing position. "His left temporal area and shoulder were against the wall and his right cheekbone against the rock;" his feet were on the floor. His cap-type hard hat with chin strap was on his head but not in cortact with either the rock or the wal . The boulder's in-cave edgeand top hit the Wall, stopping its movement with Tsakie's head in a five to six inch space, with greater space below.
One caver immediately left for help while four others futily tried to move the boulder, Then one supported Tsakle from below while three companions searched the entrance sink for something to serve as a lever. Some old truck parts failed in this regard so one caver was sent for a hydraulic auto jack; another went to call the Eastern Region Cave Rescue Network (at 4:10 p,m.).
Tsakle lost consciouness within thirty seconds of the rockfall and ceased moving after about one minute. At 3:59 John Evans, one of the victim's party, noted that Taskle's pulse was strong, he was unconscious and there was a trickle of blood from his left nostril.
At about 4:20 the hydraulic jack arrived and with this and crowbars they were able to move the boulder.. Tsakle was carefully moved to the first dry spot, about twenty feet away, and CPR was begun. The Renick Rescue Squad arrived and a paramedic took over CPR at 4:29 Tsakle was evacuated by stretcher at 5:25 and reached a hospital by ambulance at 6:02. Enroute IV's were established and cardiac drugs administered, without success. He was pronounced dead at 6:05 p.m.
Jerry Kyle "Caving Accident in Fullers Cave" undated, 3 pp.
AP "Boulder Kills Man Inside Cave" The Inter-Mountain (Elkins. WV) December 3, 1985.
George Dasher Personal Communication January 12, l9B6, 2 pp.
John Evans "Accident at Fuller Cave" NSS News February 1986, p 40; also in Massachusefts Caver 3(5) November-December 1985. p 3.
Bob Warshaw "Fatal Acciden in Fullers Cave, W' V" Massachusetts Gaver 3(5) November-December 1985, p 4-5.
Eric Tsakle was killed in one of those accidents over which one has little control - he was apparently in the wrong place at a particular instant of time. His companions, courageous in working under a now obviously unstable boulder, did everything they could; this had to be heartbreaking for them. Cave rescuers were very fast onto the scene, to no avail.
In the shining light of hindsight, there is perhaps something meaningful to note, To paraphrase John Evans, caves should never be regarded as stable and unchangable; the recent flooding would certainly leave its mark on a cave. New instabilities should be expected. The safer caver will be one who expects the unexpected. If it were in any wav apparent that a boulder could move, and if so would move to the left, then thecaverwho chose topass it on the right would be the safer caver. In this case, no caver noticed any instability.
The boulder in this case was very massive and probably no helmet would have saved Tsakle. A skull can be fractured by much less we ight, however, and cavers should be encouraged to use helmets with strength in all directions - it could save your life.