Behind the scenes

Inside the ‘unbelievable’ Brecon Beacons cave rescue

More than 250 specialist rescuers helped free the injured man trapped for two days

An injured man trapped underground in the Brecon Beacons has been rescued after a complex, two-day mission involving around 250 specialist rescuers.

The man, whose identity hasn’t been revealed to the media but is thought to be in his 40s and an experienced caver, fell while caving in Ogof Ffynnon Ddu near Penwyllt, a hamlet 20 miles northeast of Swansea in Wales.

His injuries, which included a broken jaw, broken leg and damage to his spine, meant he wasn’t able to free himself from the cavern he had fallen into. 

A fellow caver called 999 and a team of specialist cave and mountain rescuers attended the scene. 

But, said Wales Online, his injuries and location in the cave meant it “soon became clear that rescuing the man was not going to be a simple task”.

‘Incredibly unlucky’

More than 250 volunteer cave rescuers took part in the efforts to free the man, including 70 people who assisted from underground, working in shifts to help carry him up using a stretcher. 

A number of the rescuers travelled from across the country to help, including some who had been involved in the Thai cave rescue in 2018, where 12 schoolboys were rescued with their football coach after 18 days underground. 

Peter Francis, one of the rescuers and a member of the South Wales Caving Club (SWCC), said that the man was “an experienced, fit caver”, said the BBC, and his fall was just “incredibly unlucky” – “a matter of putting his foot in the wrong place”, reported Sky News

He added: “To actually carry somebody in a stretcher, this is a 60-hour job. It’s unbelievable… It’s involved most of the rescue teams in Britain and the way they’ve worked together, meshed together – I just feel so proud of all of them.”

The man is thought to be in a good condition in hospital, despite the severity of his injuries.

Longest cave rescue in Wales

The rescue mission took more than 53 hours, making it the longest cave rescue ever undertaken in Wales, according to the BBC. When explaining why the mission took so long, Francis said that the man “was a mile or two underground in an awkward place”.

The complex Ogof Ffynnon Ddu cave system is one of the deepest in the UK and cavers need a permit from the SWCC to access it. 

At their deepest, some of the caves in the system are 300 metres below the ground and they stretch for more than 30 miles, “making them the third-longest cave system in the UK”, said Wales Online. 

Francis said the accident was a “one-off” and that Ogof Ffynnon Ddu “is a world-class cave system” and “a fairly safe area”. 

According to startcaving.com, caving accidents are rare. The website claims that high-risk cavers run a one in 3,332 chance of dying, compared with one in 60 for base jumping and one in 100 for grand prix motor racing.

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