Cave diving rescue in France

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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Dec 15, 2010 12:18 pm

Fumes released by the explosives used for widening the ceiling of Sump 2, I presume.
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby MUD » Dec 15, 2010 6:58 pm

BrianC wrote:
This is one heck of a documentary! Thank you Yvonne for keeping us informed about this tragedy!

:clap: I've been following Yvonne's posts since day one. Incredible. :clap:
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Dec 16, 2010 12:51 pm

Just a quick unofficial update for Wednesday Dec 15: one diver was able to squeeze through Sump 2, but was not able to dive in Sump 3 because it is too narrow, and all rock. A lead was found in the large room beyond Sump 3: what looks like a 3-foot-wide passage entrance about 30 feet up the wall. The plan for Thursday was to continue enlarging Sump 2 and to scale the wall up to the lead in the large room.

Hopefully Spéléo Secours will post an official update soon. Thanks for all your notes, everyone. This story has fascinated me from the start, and since I speak French and am a translator, I have no problem continuing to update you all! :)

-Yvonne
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby Scott McCrea » Dec 16, 2010 1:27 pm

Somewhere in this epic, is a movie or book. Which, of course, would benefit the family and the rescuers.
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Dec 17, 2010 10:55 am

Wednesday Dec 15 was a day that had long been prepared for. The two divers who had volunteered to cross Sump 2 were motivated. Their mission was complex. First they needed to cross the tight spot in the sump. If that was possible, without endangering them of course, once on the other side they were to dive Sump 3. Finally, depending on what they found, they would install a drain tube from Sump 2 to Sump 3.

During the morning, a team continued to enlarge the ceiling of Sump 2 but it is going very slowly. If the sump were empty, work would progress much faster.

In the early afternoon, sherpas hauled the diving gear down to Sump 2. The divers followed and one of them entered the water to analyze the constriction in Sump 2. He returned shortly after and reported back to the Command Post, then plunged back in to attempt to get through. He was successful in crossing the sump, and returned to report back again. The passage is very tight, but with some technique, it is possible to pass through. Communication with the Command Post resumed and a strategy was adopted: the divers would both go through Sump 2, then attempt to dive Sump 3. Finally, the objective of so many days was close at hand. The divers left and after a long time, returned with bad news: Sump 3 is impassable. They both tried, and they agree without doubt that this is the case. The sump is a fissure through hard rock that soon becomes too narrow. The continuation downwards in Puits de Ronze is not to be through Sump 3…

The two divers then thoroughly inspected the room and the passage between Sumps 2 and 3. At a level of about 45 feet, they discovered a window that looks like the entrance of a passage over Sump 3. Climbing it seems relatively straightforward, but still it requires climbing gear. This passage is probably the last opportunity for the recovery operation.

-Yvonne
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby Anonymous_Coward » Dec 17, 2010 3:56 pm

This is probably the most incredible story of determination I have ever heard.
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Dec 17, 2010 6:12 pm

After Wednesday’s dives, the objective for Thursday Dec 16 was of course to pump Sump 2 into Sump 3. The first team arrived at Sump 2 that morning and checked on the tube that was supposed to drain water to the other side of Sump 2. Alas, the water level would not go down. After various attempts, they had to resign themselves: it was not going to work. Therefore it was decided to restart the enlargement efforts in the ceiling of Sump 2.

In the meantime, the team at the surface was working on making the pumps more efficient. After some fine tuning of the generator and after adding a stage pump that should reduce load losses, it was hoped that the output would be increased by 20 to 25 %. The objective was to achieve 12 - 13 cubic meters per hour. The tube draining the water away from the surface was also lengthened by more than 600 feet, to ensure that the expelled water would not find its way back into the Puits de Ronze. A camera was also installed near the dam. It allows to see the water level and to verify that the pump is functioning without a team needing to descend to the dam.

Enlargement work continued at the insurgence. After cleaning out debris from the previous day, the team stopped at the top of a 3-foot drop.

-Yvonne
P.S. I will be underground for four days, and won't re-emerge until Tuesday evening. I'll update you after I'm back, unless someone else does it. I sure hope there will be some good news from France by then. They really deserve a break...
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby FW » Dec 18, 2010 8:53 am

I wonder if sump 2 and 3 are actually at the same level, and connected somewhere. that would explain why pumping from 2 into 3 didn't work.
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Dec 22, 2010 1:44 pm

On Friday, Dec 17, maintenance tasks needed to be done. Fuel filters were replaced on the big generator (70 kva). That’s what is powering the pump at the dam, since the grid is not powerful enough. The other generator (10 kva) was also tested. A new pump, kindly loaned by a dealer, was delivered to the site. This one is much more powerful, approximately 25 cubic meters per hour, in comparison with 12 currently. All electric adaptations for this new equipment were worked on during the day, and the installation will be done on Saturday. This added efficiency will allow to again pump Sump 2 and continue to work downstream of it.

Since it is not possible to dive Sump 3, there is one chance left to continue onward: through a passage 50 feet up above the sump. To do this, Sump 2 will need to be emptied, and a team of cavers will need to be able to cross it safely. In order to do that, the following must be accomplished:

1. Enlarging Sump 2
2. Installing a sump pump in Sump 2 while repositioning the discharge tube that connects Sump 2 to Sump 3.
3. Installing a large-diameter tube to divert the main stream directly from the dam into Sump 3, so that Sump 2 will not be fed by the stream anymore.

Of course, these goals will be affected by the weather of the next few days.

On Friday evening, a very motivated team was going to bring the electric motor of the pump down to the dam. This load, weighing more than 175 pounds, would be transported the same way as the first pump: in a rescue litter. But before the transport occurred, a template of the body of the pump was created and brought down. At every corner where it would not fit, diggers enlarged the passage. This operation lasted a large part of the night. Another team took apart the first pump, which will be kept as a back up near the new one.

On Saturday, Dec 18, the real pump, which measures over 7.8 feet long, was carried into the Puits de Ronze. The transport worked relatively smoothly until Sump 1 was reached. Since a tight corner had not yet been enlarged the night before, more widening had to be done to accommodate the length of the pump body.

Towards the beginning of the afternoon, the pump had arrived near the dam. All sorts of tasks, including modifying the control panel, were then necessary for installation, and those tasks lasted a few hours. Then the discharge tube and the power cable had to be connected. Finally, towards evening, after a series of tests, the pump was operational.

The plan for the night crew was as follows: empty Sump 2 into the dam; once empty, enlarge the sump by using explosives, until it is easy to cross; reposition the tube between Sumps 2 and 3; divert the main stream directly from the dam into Sump 3. If all that can be accomplished during the night, then the bolt climb can be done on Sunday…

On Sunday Dec 19, the entire pumping system was functioning. The new pump in the dam was bringing out the water to the surface, and the dam was not overflowing anymore. The water from Sumps 1 and 2 were being pumped into the dam. Some fine tuning even improved the debit. Sump 2 was empty by end of morning. The diggers were able to open up the narrow part of the sump. However, the configuration of the sumps had slightly changed. The ubiquitous sand in this flooded passage had moved and had partially clogged the passage that was open just a few days previously. And so it was necessary to again start removing sand, bucket by bucket. After a few hours, the passage was again open and the way was free to reach Sump 3.

The tube was repositioned into Sump 3 and finally, the terminal sump was absorbing all the water sent into it. The safety of cavers beyond Sump 2 is now ensured, and the climb above Sump 3 can start. The climbers started bolting up the wall while another team installed the diversion tube between the main stream and Sump 3. Yet another team did a dye-trace of the stream at the level of Sump 3, and surveyed the new part of the cave.

By the end of Sunday, the climbers had reached more than 33 feet up a chimney. They entered a meander and about 50 feet later were stopped by a piece of breakdown that needed to be removed. Behind it, they could see the passage continuing. In the chimney, 16 feet higher than the start of the meander, the climbers also saw an enlarged area that could be the start of a new passage. However, they had run out of bolting equipment. In spite of all the efforts expended on this weekend, it is still not known if it’s possible to access the flooded area of the Dragonnière. One thing is for certain: the chances are diminishing rapidly.

In order to allow all the participants to spend Christmas with their families, it was decided to stop all work for three days between December 24 and 26, no matter what the results of the climb will be.

-Yvonne
(There are two more updates, for Monday and Tuesday, which I will translate later. Short version: the way on is still being worked on, and a passage with good air was found. The weather interfered, and the teams had to get back out.)
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Dec 22, 2010 6:06 pm

Monday Dec 20 marks the sixtieth work day on the site of the Puits de Ronze since the beginning of the operation on October 23. After the intensity of the weekend, not many participants were left on site on Monday. Since difficult and hard work was not possible, the participants decided to spend time on maintenance of the various systems. One team went down to check on the pump. Another team went to clear out debris at the insurgence dig and do a bit more digging. This day was also put to use to organize the objectives for Tuesday: cross through Sump 2, finish the bolt climb, and break up the rock that blocks the meander.

On Tuesday Dec 21, a team went down early to check on the pumps at Sump 1 and at the dam. Then they started the pumps at Sump 2. It took a few hours to empty Sump 2, then one person went through to check on the tubes downstream. All seemed to function well, so with safety ensured, the climbing team started their climb. The command post at the surface was kept informed, and inversely, they gave directives to the bottom teams because at the surface, it was raining. If the conditions deteriorated, the order would immediately be given for the bottom teams to return to the surface.

The climbers reached a height of about 160 feet above the level of Sump 3. Unfortunately, the top was impenetrable. The continuation will not be through there. They descended back to the level of the meander, where a rock was blocking the passage. They managed to slide through the obstacle without breaking the rock. Behind it, the way on was free and so the cavers progressed for a ways then hit a dome about 6 feet in diameter. It will be necessary to climb about 20 feet. That was left for later. On the way back to the tight spot, a bit higher up, the team found a small passage, where the air seems to enter. About 6 feet were passable, but then formations blocked the passage. But it is a lead.

Back in the meander, another lead was checked. It seemed to go towards the top of Sump 2. At the meander, a digger worked on removing the rock to make the passage easier to traverse. After the rock was gone, the passage became much more comfortable.

That is when the command post ordered the teams to return to the surface, because the weather was deteriorating. It was noted that the systems were all working well and Sumps 1 and 2 were empty.

-Yvonne
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Dec 23, 2010 11:06 am

Due to the intense rain of the past two days, no team was allowed to enter the Puits de Ronze on Wednesday and Thursday Dec 21 and 22. The surface creek has been running nonstop for three days now. On Wednesday, during a short break in the rain, a team went to the insurgence to clear out some rocks and dig some more. The two days were dedicated to organizing camp, safely stowing gear, and getting everything ready for restarting the operation on Monday Dec 27. Surveillance of the site has been assured for the three days that the operation will be suspended.

So… no more updates until after Monday. Happy holidays to all!

-Yvonne
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Dec 29, 2010 10:00 am

Since Spéléo Secours is not posting any updates on their site, I’ll update you unofficially from what a participant is posting on a French forum.

On Monday December 20, 2010 operations restarted at the Puits de Ronze after the holiday break. Several electrical problems manifested themselves during the course of the day. It was impossible to pump out the sumps except for Sump 1, albeit with two pumps at the same time.
While these issues were being resolved, the plan for Tuesday was to do a bolt climb above Sump 2 to try to find a bypass to the sump. A sound connection had been established. All that needs done is to open it up to be humanly passable. Instead of some participants spending the day doing nothing, this climb could be a valuable help in the future.

On Tuesday Dec 21 a number of electrical problems were resolved. The pumps will be running all night to hopefully enable to cross Sump 2 on Wednesday. The climb above Sump 2 did not work out.

-Yvonne
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Dec 30, 2010 10:32 am

Update from Spéléo Secours Français for Monday Dec 27 through Thursday Dec 30 2010:
The site was reopened after the Christmas break for a few days before the New Year’s holiday. Unfortunately, the difficult weather conditions caused problems during the three days cavers were gone. Wind ravaged part of the Command Center. Tents were displaced and all the shelves were upended, breaking some items.

Therefore, Monday Dec 27 was dedicated to cleaning up and refurbishing the site. Finally, one team went into the Puits de Ronze. Water levels were high and the pumps functioned properly, but were not sufficient to stem the flow. Sump 2 could not be crossed. The team decided to redo the climb up over Sump 2. It was known that a sound connection existed, but the exact location of the lead was not visible. This possibility would allow to cross Sump 2. However, from the top of the bolt climb on this side of the sump, it was not clear where to start widening, and so the team had to give up. By the end of the afternoon, the big pump stopped working. The automatic circuit breaker for the motor had cut out. The electricians in the group will work at finding the necessary parts for the repair.

On Tuesday Dec 28, by end of morning, the new switch arrived on site and was brought down. Two hours later, the pump was again functioning and the debit was fine. The levels went down in the main stream, and finally, it was possible to go work beyond Sump 2. Since it was late in the day, this task was postponed to Wednesday. The objective was set: open up the little passage in the meander to see where it would lead.

On Wednesday Dec 29, another twist of fate: the 70 Kva generator started acting up. It had functioned all night just fine, then in the middle of the morning, it stopped and would not restart. The oil filter seemed to be the problem, as well as the fuel intake. Is spite of many attempts, it would not restart and so the team had to resign themselves. Another day was lost.

After some deliberations, it was decided to stop work until January 3. A team will be on site on Thursday Dec 30 to work on fixing the generator and to shut down the site for the holiday.

This set back does not change the objective to explore the passage discovered beyond Sump 2, where formations block the passage. There is good air through it and it’s a possible bypass of Sump 3. To enable this, it’s important to have full teams ready to go on January 3. This means a technical counsel, a manager, a rock digger, a rigging team, but also technicians (electricians, mechanics…) will be needed to successful run all of the technical infrastructure on site.

-Yvonne
(Happy New Year to all, and let’s keep Eric in our thoughts; he is patiently waiting in the Dragonnière.)
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby Scott McCrea » Dec 30, 2010 11:06 am

Man, this place has some terrible weather.

Yvonne, can you point out where this is? Not exactly, of course. Maybe the closest town, or ideally, a link to the area on Google Maps?
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby NZcaver » Dec 30, 2010 11:30 am

The mayor of Labastide de Virac has been mentioned several times for providing support to the recovery effort.

See Google maps
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