KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – First responders who used their technical training to save a trapped man in a cave this weekend are sharing their story for the first time.
Friday night around 6 p.m., the Sparta-White County Volunteer Rescue Squad was called to help in a cave rescue in the northeastern part of the county. We’re told the cave was between Sparta and Cookeville.
Rescuers say the trapped caver fell roughly 10-feet, landed on a ledge and a boulder fell on top of his leg, possibly breaking it.
A number of cave specialists deployed to help in saving the man, one of those crews with Knox County Rescue.
“It was a cave that normally what we’d say to ourselves, ‘This is where you don’t want to get hurt because it’ll be hard to get you out if you do get hurt,'” said Chris Higgins, a member of the Cave and Vertical Team for Knox County Rescue.
Nine crew members on that team were deployed to help.
“That’s where this team has really shined is the cave environment because there’s only a handful of teams really in the southeast,” said Trevor Pickel, with the Cave and Vertical Team for Knox County Rescue.
Rescuers say the ledge the man fell to was roughly 100 feet from the floor of a pit.
“It’s a 60-foot repel, so a 6-story repel from the entrance of the cave down to the floor and then 500 feet of very tight, winding canyons that were 1-to-2 feet tall and 2-to-3 feet wide. So, a very tight body-wise hole for a very long distance,” explained Higgins.
“In a cave it’s dark and you can only see what you have with your headlamp so you have to rely on voice communications a little bit more,” added Pickel.
Rescuers say they used rigging hardware to create a man-powered hauling system to get the patient safely and efficiently out of the cave.
“It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s damp and it’s crowded at this point. We had to slide him through, inch-by-inch and it probably took three hours to get him about 500 feet,” said Higgins.
Higgins says the tightness of the cave was the biggest challenge.
“We took explosives in the cave and widened spots and blew rocks up to make it big enough,” Higgins said.
Around 3 a.m. the man was free and on his way to the hospital.
“These guys are going to get somebody out of a cave if they’re hurt. They’re going to get them out whether it takes an hour or whether it takes three days. But to have it go so efficiently that was really good to see all the different services working together,” said Pickel.
Rescuers say the man is doing okay, in high spirits and already up and moving around.
Crew members of Knox County Rescue say this is a rare situation and they generally they make one cave rescue a year.