It was dark and still snowing, the temperature just below freezing, when rescuers reached two injured cavers out of the final pitch of Fang Cave, about 50 km north of Dome Creek.
The cavers had fallen into a 20-metre vertical pitch at the popular caving site located in Evanoff Provincial Park. Two women and one man around 20 years of age were experienced cavers, says Jeff Smedley, who coordinates Prince George Search and Rescue. The B.C. Cave Rescue Association also joined the search.
Smedley says the middle climber fell and landed on the guy below her. The woman suffered from a concussion while the male was not injured beyond capacity. The top climber continued out of the cave and used a satellite phone to call for help.
The accident happened around 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 11th. It was midnight by the time rescuers reached the base of the mountain, and then the fastest and fittest hiked through about 20 cm of snow to the cave entrance. Smedley says it took 1.5 hours for the first rescuers to reach the cave entrance, which is in sub-alpine, in addition to the two-hour drive on logging roads to access the trailhead.
At the cave, the two stranded cavers were at the bottom of a 20-metre vertical pitch and rescuers had to rig some ropes so one of them could repel into the cave with harnesses to pull the pair out.
Prince George Search and Rescue along with some local Prince George B.C. Cave Rescue Association members were able to pull the pair out and transfer them to a local hospital by 5 a.m. with non-life-threatening head and leg injuries.
Smedley says any cave rescue falls under the B.C. Cave Rescue Association’s jurisdiction until they get a subject to the surface at which point local search and rescue and B.C. ambulance take over.
“B.C. ambulance was on the scene, but it was all ground access since it was too dark to fly,” Smedley says.
In October 2009 Smedley was involved in a 100-person cave rescue effort which successfully brought an injured caver out of Fang Cave alive after being seriously injured by a large falling rock deep within the cave network. Smedley says that in that case, the man was hit and critically injured on Saturday in the middle of the afternoon and was passed up to a Canadian military helicopter in the darkness of Sunday morning.
Prior to the last incident at Fang Cave, Smedley was involved in the most extensive caving rescue effort in Canadian history when in 1992, 110 people were involved in the recovery of the body of a caver who had been struck by a falling boulder deep in Arctomys Cave approximately 20 kilometres up Moose River, high in the alpine of Mt. Robson Provincial Park. He says that he has only seen three cave rescues during his time with Prince George Search and Rescue.
He says Fang Cave has seen increased used in the last few years due to its relatively easy accessibility.