FATAL ACCIDENT IN MOSSDALE CAVERNS 1967 by Len Huff: by permission of UWFRA
Fatal Accident in Mossdale Caverns. 24th to 28th June 1967
A report by L. H. Huff. Chairman of the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association
IMPORTANT - Please treat this report as confidential. The U.W.F.R.A. and the C.R.O. do not wish this report or any part of it to be reported in the Press, or be shown or told to the parents and relatives of the dead cavers. In this way, we hope to avoid any possible further suffering or distress to any one of the parents or relatives which this report might cause. I hope that everyone will bear this in mind and act accordingly.
Mossdale Scar concealing the entrance to this system lies 15 miles north of Skipton and about 3 miles north east of Grassington.
The Scar is high on Grassington Moor at an altitude of 1,400 feet A.O.D., National Grid Reference SE 0165 6980, and is reached only by either walking up the Gill House Valley from Yarnbury, or by a track from Conistone; in both cases
a distance of approximately 3 miles.
It is a forbidding cliff, some 50 feet high and 200 feet-long: the majority is shattered by erosion and undercut by one of the largest streams in Yorkshire at this altitude. The water of the system passes down through the Yoredale Limestone, into the Great Scar Limestone, and resurges at Black Keld some 5 miles north west of the scar, yet 900 feet lower.
It is only in recent years that the characteristics of cavern development in Yoredale Limestone have received serious study, hence the amount of attention given to this system by leading caving clubs.
The nature of the caverns is of such severity as to be classified "Super Severe" which demands a high degree of skill and competence from all who enter.
The Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association received a call at 23.10 hours on Saturday evening, stating that five men were feared trapped by rising water in Mossdale Caverns. This call came from a Mr. Riley, of Yarnbury, on behalf of Miss Morag Forbes, who had walked and run from Mossdale Scar across the moor, a distance of 2 1/2 miles, to raise the alarm.
Immediately, a full scale call out was initiated, and a request made to Leeds University Speleological Association to assist rescue operations, as they know this system better than anyone else. An urgent request was also made to the Fire Service for portable pumps.
Len Huff spoke to Mr. R. Hainsworth, Chief Warden of the Cave Rescue Organisation, asking him to put his team on 'stand by‘, and they discussed the possibility of a long arduous rescue. The first reconnaissance party left at 00.10 hours on the Sunday morning, whilst the main team followed 20 minutes later. It was also agreed to ask Len Huff and Chris Baker to walk from Yarnbury and intercept, should any of those feared trapped have surfaced, and if so, wireless the Mossdale Team. These two left Yarnbury at 01.00 hours.
Meanwhile, Miss Forbes had been transported from Yarnbury to Grassington, where she informed the rescue team that nine people went underground at Mossdale at 14.00 hours and five intended going to Mini Cow Passage to investigate Far Stream Sink boulder choke, whilst Miss Forbes and three others went to Rough Chamber and returned. The water in the stream and cave was very low when they went in, and when they surfaced about 17.00 hours, although it was raining lightly, there was no cause for alarm. These four people then went to their base at How Gill Nick shooting box for a meal. Afterwards, three left for Braida Garth, Kingsdale, which is the headquarters for the Happy Wanderers Club, of which some of these people are members. Miss Forbes re-visited Mossdale Scar about two hours later and found Mossdale Beck normal, although it was still raining. She returned to the Shooting Box, which is about half an hour‘s walk from the Scar.
After a short while it began to rain much more heavily and she became worried. Another visit was made to Mossdale, when she found the level of the beck has risen enormously, and the whole area in front of the Scar was a sheet of water. She had no idea of the exact time of her last visit, but it would be between 20.30 hours and 21.30 hours.
The first rescue party arrived at Mossdale at about 01.15 hours, and found conditions worse than Miss Forbes had described. There was a huge lake in front of the Scar, and the entrance was under about four feet of water and starting to silt up. The main party arrived at 01.30 hours with the obvious object of diverting water from the entrance and clearing the debris.
Len Huff and Chris Baker arrived at 02.20 hours from Yarnbury with a negative report. By 02.25 hours the team had succeeded in gaining access to the cave, therefore Des Birch led a party underground to explore conditions. More pumps were sent for; also the Settle—Ingleton team and the Leeds Police Sub-Aqua team were called out, the latter for breathing apparatus and recharging equipment only.
At 03.30 hours, Des Birch and team surfaced reporting that the water was still very high, with evidence of severe flooding; froth enveloping the roof several inches thick throughout the Near Series.
Mechanical diggers and other equipment were sent for to divert the whole stream down Bycliffe. This meant digging a trench 130 yards long, at least eight feet deep and sufficiently wide to take Mossdale Beck in flood. After this had been completed a dam was to be laid across the stream to make a complete diversion and thus reduce the water in the cave, and provide a safety factor for rescue teams. Furthermore, it would give the trapped men an opportunity to get out providing all was well. Met. reports were asked for at hourly intervals.
From 04.00 hours, teams were going into and out of the cave trying to establish communications from the cave entrance to Rough Chamber. There was no appreciable fall of water in the cave until about 11.00 hours, during which time food had to be prepared for those underground and on the surface.
Throughout the morning difficulty was experienced with telephone wires previously laid by the University of Leeds Speleological Association and those supplementing them, and much time and effort was spent before establishing
reasonable contact with Rough Chamber at about 12.10 hours.
The first search team, led by Frank Rayner, entered the system at 12.40 hours to explore as far as "Far Marathon Passage". At 13.25 hours, a second search party, led by Al. Milner, was sent in to explore "Far Marathon West Passages". Another search party followed the previous one to search High Level Mud Passages and Far Stream Sink Chamber.
From 14.15 hours support teams were being sent in with food and flasks and relief for those on telephone points at Blackpool Sands and Rough Chamber. By this time there were 200 people working on the dam wall and cutting the water channel.
At 17.20 hours Jim Eyre reported five bodies had been located in the Far Marathon Passage, therefore Des Birch decided to evacuate the cave except for materials. The Police were informed, also the parents of the deceased, who were then taken down to Conistone. Information of this kind was not sent over the radio link in case the tragic news should leak out before al the relatives had been informed.
The cave had been cleared of all personnel by 18.10 hours and the weather became worse. There was another thunderstorm and rain fell heavily.
We were originally called out to search for five men and after five had been located, news filtered through that there were six men in the original party. This was confirmed after Shepherd had surfaced at 18.10 hours. John Shepherd was one who entered the Caverns at 14.00 hours on Saturday, 24th June, with Miss Forbes and two others.
All personnel left the scene only to return on the Monday.