On Sunday, Nov. 18, a group of rock climbers from Woodstock, Ga., had made their way to the “creek passage” portion of the popular caving system located at Crockford Pigeon Mountain.
“She fell and sprained her foot really bad and was unable to put any sort of weight on it,” fire chief Randy Camp said. “They were unable to carry her out so they called the fire department.”
The group had not planned to go caving, dressing for rock climbing but not for the 68-degree cave temperature, but their curiosity led them inside the beginning phase of the cave, according to Camp.
After only a few hours at the cave, the 21-year-old woman, whose name was not released, needed significant assistance to leave the cave.
Walker County Emergency Services was contacted at 2:51 p.m. and was on the scene assessing the situation 30 minutes later to prepare for the extraction.
Thirty-five personnel responded to the incident — 10 from the Walker County Cave and Cliff team, 10 firefighters who are cross-trained in rope rescues, and 15 similarly-skilled first responders from Hamilton County, Tenn., according to assistant chief Troy Perry, the duty officer who was in charge on scene.
“The crews executed based on their predetermined plan of the cave,” Perry said.
WCES officials have established plans for rescues from the popular cave site, similar to their detailed fire plans for commercial buildings.
It took nearly four hours to complete the rescue, at a point in the cave where ordinarily a person could exit in 30 minutes. The woman had to be hoisted vertically in a “seat harness” during two climbing portions (creek passage and corkscrew) of the cave; in other instances, a “stokes” basket was necessary, with a line of rescuers sliding the woman toward the entry, inches at a time.
“Working a cave environment is long and complex. It requires a lot of equipment and people to accomplish it,” Camp said.
“She was able to come out under her own power, but she was assisted very heavily,” Perry said.
The woman was treated further after exiting the cave and crews returned to service by 8 p.m.