Anyone have a rock collapse near them from above?

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Anyone have a rock collapse near them from above?

Postby BrianFrank » Apr 6, 2016 6:40 pm

I remember visiting Lost Sea many years ago and the manager telling me how scuba divers tried to explore out under the far ceiling where the water met the rock. As they were moving out from the open area one or a few of them realized a boulder from the ceiling the size of a VW collapsed behind them. That if it had collapsed on one of them, that would have been it. They figured that the bubbles from their breathing out had dislodged a boulder that may have been precariously hanging for possibly many, many years. Anyway, that was the end of cave dive explorations of Lost Sea in that area. They tried submersible after that but, as far as the submersible would go, there was open water in front of it.

I realize that underwater is of course very different than actual regular caving. But, I would be interested to know if there is anyone out there who was exploring a virgin or tight passage and had a rock or boulder fall next to them or behind them that may have also been precariously hanging there, waiting for their body or their vibrations to be the last straw that dislodged it from the ceiling. Love to hear your experience.

I bring this up because that is one of my fears when crawling in super tight passages knowing that my passage is the only route back out.

Thank you......
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Re: Anyone have a rock collapse near them from above?

Postby Scott McCrea » Apr 7, 2016 7:22 am

I was belly crawling through a section of well travelled cave when a coffee table size slab (about 1-2 inches thick) flaked off the ceiling and landed on my back and legs. It only fell a few inches so it didn't hurt. It only weighed maybe 100 pounds, so I just nudged it off and went on my way.
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Re: Anyone have a rock collapse near them from above?

Postby CaverScott » Apr 7, 2016 8:16 am

I recall an incident from a few years back (ok, maybe even ten or so) where a group was exploring a cave and one member of the crew got on a very large (bigger than desk) rock which dislodged with his weight and they (him and rock) when down the slope. He described it like surfing underground without the water. He got hurt, but not not seriously enough to cause a rescue.

If you are member, suggest you check out the past issues of American Caving Accidents. This is a mostly annual publication recapping all reporting cave incidents.
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Re: Anyone have a rock collapse near them from above?

Postby CaverScott » Apr 7, 2016 8:19 am

Valhalla Cave, Alabama - June 10 1984, Samuel Crawford, 21, and Michael Hanebaum, 20, were crushed by a 30'30' slab of rock that flaked off while they were waiting to ascend out. (A companion was on rope when this happened.)
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Re: Anyone have a rock collapse near them from above?

Postby graveleye » Apr 7, 2016 8:32 am

that's like a one in a thousand year rockfall. I guess when your numbers up....

We had about a 500 lb piece of breakdown go sliding and almost nailed one of our party. He wasn't on it, but downhill from it. Had his hands on it trying to get out of the way. It stopped and he was ok, but if it had a few more feet and started to tumble it would have ended badly.
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Re: Anyone have a rock collapse near them from above?

Postby gindling » Apr 7, 2016 8:41 am

2002 or 2003? We were in Krakatoa Cave in TN with about four or five cavers. On the way in we heard a large crash somewhere through the wall while in a crawl. Two of us made it to the bottom of the cave that day, the last rappel was tied around a chockstone in the canyon. On our way out, through the vertical breakdown squeezes, there was a lot of rock movement and some resounding crashes. I don't know if that passage survived and we suspect that it was sealed shut for the time being. Anyone been to Krakatoa since 2003?
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Re: Anyone have a rock collapse near them from above?

Postby BrianFrank » Apr 7, 2016 10:24 am

Sounds like close calls happen more often than people have let on. The few elaborated above could have been fatal. Terrible about Valhalla Cave. I hope more of you tell your experiences.

I know its not exactly the same type of accident as a rock falling on or near someone, but I remember ten or so years ago that two people ascended first out of a pit in Alabama. There was still one more ascending the same rope. The two left the pit and came back minutes later to find their friend had died in a fall from the rope being cut. The assumption after the investigation was that a rock had dislodged from above and fell on the rope pinching it against another rock in such a way that cut it in two. I understand there was no noise or scream that they heard, either because he died silently, or they were too far away from the pit at the time to hear anything. I'm sure someone reading this knows more. But, that is bad luck.
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Re: Anyone have a rock collapse near them from above?

Postby CaverScott » Apr 8, 2016 7:17 am

graveleye wrote:that's like a one in a thousand year rockfall. I guess when your numbers up....

We had about a 500 lb piece of breakdown go sliding and almost nailed one of our party. He wasn't on it, but downhill from it. Had his hands on it trying to get out of the way. It stopped and he was ok, but if it had a few more feet and started to tumble it would have ended badly.


I have heard of this type of close call happen quite a few times. Stay alert!
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Re: Anyone have a rock collapse near them from above?

Postby CaverScott » Apr 8, 2016 7:18 am

BrianFrank wrote:Sounds like close calls happen more often than people have let on. The few elaborated above could have been fatal. Terrible about Valhalla Cave. I hope more of you tell your experiences.

I know its not exactly the same type of accident as a rock falling on or near someone, but I remember ten or so years ago that two people ascended first out of a pit in Alabama. There was still one more ascending the same rope. The two left the pit and came back minutes later to find their friend had died in a fall from the rope being cut. The assumption after the investigation was that a rock had dislodged from above and fell on the rope pinching it against another rock in such a way that cut it in two. I understand there was no noise or scream that they heard, either because he died silently, or they were too far away from the pit at the time to hear anything. I'm sure someone reading this knows more. But, that is bad luck.


Sounds like the Mega Well death. Don't recall if the buddies who had climbed were out or not.
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Re: Anyone have a rock collapse near them from above?

Postby BrianFrank » Apr 8, 2016 2:07 pm

Here is a write-up from one of the rescuers that recovered the body at Mega Well. http://www.stationr.org/rescues/megawell.php. The author is incorrect that the rope was worn in two at the lip.
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Re: Anyone have a rock collapse near them from above?

Postby graveleye » Apr 8, 2016 2:57 pm

I had always heard that incident was blamed on the cheapo Mexican rope they were using.

I've done plenty of vertical since I read that article, but it sure didn't help me with my anxiety when on rope.
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Re: Anyone have a rock collapse near them from above?

Postby GroundquestMSA » Apr 9, 2016 11:52 am

My first experience with rockfall was in Honaker, VA. I was probably ten or twelve and my grandpa and I sneaked across a pasture to check out a sinkhole. There was a cave, and I sat in a room waiting for grandpa to check out some squeezes. I thought I heard 4-wheelers outside and was scared that we were going to be caught. Then two slabs dropped off the ceiling near the entrance and I was scared that we were going to die. I was scared of almost everything in them there days.

Similar to McCrea's experience, I recently came out of a tight crawl with a few flakes riding on my back. They were only probably ten pounds or so, and didn't "fall" as I more or less scraped them loose in passing. This was in a KY dig.

In another virgin passage in VA last month, I squeezed through a small gap and into a large, steeply up-sloping passage that was floored by boulders and loose, wet gravel. I started a pretty impressive landslide that temporarily clogged the hole I had just crawled through. It was easy to kick the blockage free, and sliding back out amid a sea of slushy rock was... fun.

In VA last January I knocked a BIG rock loose near the top of a 30' pit. I was level with the rock when it came loose. I was alone at the time, and had decided to survey despite my worries about the loose entrance area. So the rock, maybe a 3' x 2' came on down, and I, feeling quite sick, decided to wait for company. Named this one Idiot Pit in honor of myself.
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Re: Anyone have a rock collapse near them from above?

Postby chac » Apr 9, 2016 7:36 pm

Without going into great detail, breakdown "flakes" peel off the ceiling in Quintana Roo underwater caves on occasion. The underwater dissolution processes in the area accelerates cave ceiling instability when you are closest to the Caribbean Sea. The further away you are from the Caribbean, other factors come into play (different, older limestone beds, etc.) that delay this dissolution process (in underwater caves).

I have experienced 4 or 5 "ceiling flake incidents" in underwater caves. I just rolled out from underneath these flakes. In some coastal caves I surveyed one can get a lot of ceiling trash falling down ("rockfall"). As an avid archivist of underwater and dry explorations in Quintana Roo Mexico, there are many records of underwater cave ceiling collapses (slabs of rock found on underwater cave guidelines a month later) and dry cave collapse reports.

The best part of this is that no one has been hurt from ceiling collapse or rock fall incidents in QRoo. I commend you starting this thread; it may help cavers to look up at the ceiling and assess it for its stability.

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Re: Anyone have a rock collapse near them from above?

Postby tncaver » Apr 10, 2016 12:02 pm

Anyone who has spent much time digging open new caves has experienced rock falls, before, during and after opening up a cave. Countless
times I have heard the whiz of rocks flying down from above while on rope with no where to go. Many times I have had a large wall of rock
collapse over head while digging. The key to avoiding injury is to always jump back the instant you see the tiniest trickle of dirt from the dig area. That trickle is an indicator that something is moving ever so slightly and usually followed by a collapse or rock fall. Newly opened caves are notorious for loose rocks. I've had them slide out from under me like riding a surf board and some have fallen on my body. Fortunately for me, none of the ones that made contact were large enough to pin me or cause an injury worthy of a trip to a medical facility. Rockfall is probably the biggest danger in caving other than hypothermia. Stay alert and stay safe. :wink:
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Anyone have a rock collapse near them from above?

Postby Ernie Coffman » Apr 10, 2016 6:47 pm

Kevin, I believe it was a Polish rope, which was exchanged for a good hunk of Blue Water, in a Mexican Cave. I don't believe there was any Mexican rope for climbing--at least back then, anyway. If my memory is correct, Bill Liebman might have been on the trip down in Mexico, so I'll see if he recalls that incident.
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