Cave diving rescue in France

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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby Phil Winkler » Dec 30, 2010 11:32 am

Scott, put this into Google Earth: Labastide de Virac, france

Then just north of this town you will see the Ardeche region. Many, many photo squares in the valley.
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Jan 4, 2011 1:23 pm

On Monday January 3 2011, the site of the Puits de Ronze was brought back into operation after the New Year break. On Dec 30, all dysfunctional equipment had been troubleshooted, so it was expected that everything would be functional now. The generator was started, the network was connected, and, big sigh of relief, everything started fine. A team went down to Sump 1 then Sump 2 to check on the pumps. All was well. The level of Sump 2 was going down, slowly but surely. An automated system was installed on the pump at Sump 2 so that the maximum amount of water could be emptied out of it without a person having to be present. The mission for Monday was accomplished, and so it was time to prepare for the exploration planned for Tuesday Jan 4: to go explore the little passage with good air off the meander, and to start the climb at the end of the meander.

-Yvonne
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Jan 5, 2011 10:04 am

On Tuesday Jan 4, 2011, the first team to go into the Puits de Ronze went down to start the pumps at the sumps. The level of Sump 2 is higher than normal, and it took longer to empty it, but by mid-afternoon, after a couple of enlargement shots were performed in the ceiling of Sump 2, the cavers were able to cross beyond it.

Finally the exploration of the leads (the little crawlway and the two climbs) can start. In the room between Sump 2 and Sump 3, a small waterfall was noticed, and since it flowed into Sump 2, it was deemed necessary to redirect its course directly into Sump 3. That helped bring down the level of water in Sump 2 significantly, and the sump remained almost empty. With safety ensured, the climbers started up into the chimneys above Sump 3.

The priority was to continue progressing in the small crawlway clogged by formations. After some enlarging, the explorers managed to squeeze through, but that passage led back to the main meander. That lead is dead. Only two climbs remain. The easier one was done first. After a few meters, the climbers entered a meander that soon narrowed and became impenetrable. This again is not the way on. The team decided to leave the last climb for the next day, and returned to the surface.

-Yvonne
(I am going to be underground for the next 4 days, and will update y'all when I return.)
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Jan 10, 2011 11:01 am

On Wednesday January 4, 2011, the objective was to go explore the last possible lead in the chimneys above Sump 3. By the end of the afternoon, a team was able to cross the emptied Sump 2 and managed to pass through the entrance of the lead. A nice piece of passage was discovered but soon the team encountered a parallel pit that led back down into the chimney. The team continued their mission by revisiting the entire area, checking each passage carefully. Unfortunately, all potential passages were either closed or hopelessly too narrow. The team exited, depressed by the realization that in spite of all efforts, nature would not let them cross this new obstacle.

On Thursday Jan 6, weather conditions were not good. After some debate, it was decided not to go underground, but to deal with some other tasks instead.

On Friday Jan. 7, a briefing on the progress of the operation took place at the police station of Largentière, attended among others by the State Prosecutor and the Mayor of La Bastide de Virac. Two Spéléo Secours Français technical advisers explained the situation and expressed their doubt that it would be possible to continue beyond the current bottom.
In order to ensure that nothing was missed, it was decided to have a second team return to double check all the passages at the bottom of the cave beyond Sump 2. Only after this ultimate inspection will the decision be made whether to stop the operation. The team returned in the middle of the night, not having found anything new.

On Saturday January 8, 2011, the painful decision was made to stop the recovery operation for the body of Eric Establie.

-Yvonne (I will post a summary of that decision this evening.)
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby SpelunkerBoB » Jan 10, 2011 11:26 am

A valiant and heroic effort. Commendations to the commitment and determination of all those involved. Rest in peace, Eric.
And thanks for keeping us all informed about this Yvonne.
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Jan 10, 2011 10:09 pm

Here is the final message from Spéléo Secours Français on Saturday January 7, 2011:

On October 23, 2010, the French Federation of Speleology, together with the Speleological Committee of the Ardèche, started the operation for the recovery of the body of Eric Establie, the French diver who tragically disappeared in the Dragonnière de Gaud cave in the Ardèche region near Labastide de Virac, France, on October 5th, 2010. The task of managing the operation was assigned to the Federation's special commission for rescue, the Spéléo Secours Français. A flood of generosity without precedent, from the French and European speleological communities, made it possible to acquire the necessary funding to bring about this action.

After more than seventy days of engagement by more than 350 cavers in difficult conditions, and after having crossed two sumps, climbed various domes, forced their way through tight spots, the cavers reached a depth of 150 meters (500 feet). In spite of all the energy expended by the explorers, the cave did not deliver the way on that was so hoped for. The final investigations of January 7 did unfortunately not permit to overcome the difficulty. The remaining 250 meters (820 feet) to go to reach the end point that had been explored by Eric Establie are impassable. In spite of all the human and material investment, the cave refuses to return the body to his family. With intense sorrow, and with technical advice by the Spéléo Secours Français, the French Federation of Speleology in agreement with the State Prosecutor decided to halt the operation for the recovery of the body of Eric Establie.

The French Federation of Speleology thanks in particular the mayor of Labastide de Virac and its inhabitants for their support and generosity. The French Federation of Speleology also thanks all those who, from close or afar, participated in this wave of solidarity without precedent, without which nothing would have been possible. The last thought goes to the family of Eric and more particularly to Evelyne, his wife, and to Arthur, his son.

Signed by
Laurence TANGUILLE
President of the French Federation of Speleology (Fédération Française de Spéléologie)

----
Here is (translated) a touching excerpt from a French newspaper story that appeared today in Post.fr:

[...] However, the caving community can be proud of the work accomplished by those who have spared no expense to bring Eric back to the surface. We have witnessed here an operation unprecedented in its scope, both from a technical standpoint and in terms of human commitment, courage and selflessness. The word "Solidarity" still has meaning.

For the family, all that remains is to mourn the man for whom they will have no grave to offer other than the place of his passion. [...]
----

And I myself salute the French for what they accomplished, even if the operation did not succeed. This is the stuff that history is made of. I am sincerely hoping that Eric's family can now find peace.

-Yvonne Droms
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby DansRock » Jan 10, 2011 10:34 pm

A triumph of human spirit, but a sad end to such a gripping recovery attempt. I hope all parties can find solace in the attempt and the solidarity, if not the final outcome. These men and women certainly gained my respect and I wish them all well. And to you too Yvonne, for your tireless updates and your passion.
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Jan 12, 2011 9:08 pm

Update by Spéléo Secours Français for Saturday 8, Sunday 9 and Monday 10 January 2011:

Ever since the decision was made to stop the recovery operation, bitter discussions and arguments for and against have ensued, but the decision is now irrevocable. The objective was not achieved, but we can all be certain that the utmost was attempted. Now what is left to be done is to remove the enormous quantity of equipment from the cave: hundreds of yards of tubes, hoses, cables, ropes, and many hundreds of pounds of pumps... Without wasting any time, during the night of Friday to Saturday, the last exploration team had already removed everything behind Sump 2. Since Saturday, teams have been taking turns to retrieve all the gear, starting from the bottom up. The pumps, the hoses, the tubes and the cables from the dam to Sump 2 were brought to the surface.

On Sunday, the weather was not favorable, but that certainly had been the case ever since the beginning of the operation. Almost all the cavers present went underground. The high-pressure pumps at the dam are the heaviest loads. The smallest of the two had already been taken apart, so it was put in the rescue stretcher and started its trip upwards. By mid-afternoon, the weather conditions rapidly degraded, and rain increased. The water levels inside the cave increased even faster, and the Command Post ordered all cavers to return to the surface immediately. The outside stream's flow became a concern. A second dam was built near the entrance to contain it. Two pumps that had just made it to the surface immediately got put into service near the entrance of the Puits de Ronze, to pump away the water on both sides of it in order to protect the cavers still underground. The stretcher with the pump was abandoned in the cave, as well as any of the heavier loads, in order to facilitate the speedy exit of the rescuers. By the end of the afternoon, everyone was outside without incident, except maybe a little fright and a good shower.

By Monday, there was no more water at the surface and the cave was again accessible. The pump was dismantled at the base of the entrance pit, and finally pulled out. Then a series of large-diameter tubes and cables were pulled out of the cave. However, at the bottom, Sump 1 had filled up. The way to the dam was blocked. The pumps at Sump 1 were restarted on automatic so that on Tuesday, the largest and heaviest pump could be brought out.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011:

Dismanteling the pump at the dam was a priority, but first Sump 1 needed to be emptied, so a team went down to take care of repositioning the pumps when needed. In the meantime, the rest of the cavers were busy starting to bring out the high-pressure-pumps' drainage tubes. In the entrance pits, they started taking apart the pieces of tubing, but the stiffness of the polyethylene was not helping the maneuvering. The first length was extracted from the pit, but the second one would not budge. More equipment needed to come out of the cave, and various counterweights were set up in order to bring up the 200 pounds of gear. The electrical panel box got stuck behind the tight spot at mid-pit. The black polyethylene tube still would not budge. After a late lunch, a team went back down to dismantle the large pump behind Sump 1, and to try their best to bring the various parts upstream of the sump, if time and fatigue allowed. By the beginning of the evening, the mission was accomplished: there was nothing left behind Sump 1. Still the pump was left on automatic to continue emptying the sump in order to allow for one last visit, and to better be able to dismantle the equipment within it.

Given the good progress so far, and due to the lack of personnel who planned to be on site on Wednesday, the site will be closed that day. Dismanteling will restart on Thursday morning.

-Yvonne
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby self-deleted_user » Jan 12, 2011 9:56 pm

Wow. I am sad they couldn't recover his body in the end, but it is very inspiring and awesome how everyone stuck together and kept hard at work in the attempt. I know there were a few times when I wished I was a better caver, and able to get over there, so I could help. Hugs for everyone involved. And thanks for keeping us updated, Yvonne.
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Jan 16, 2011 10:55 am

On Thursday and Friday, January 14-15, 2011, the derig operations continued at the Puits de Ronze. The big HP pump was disconnected and the body of the pump was brought to the bottom of the entrance pit series. In order to make it easier to pass through the tight spots in the first pits, the tubes and hoses were dismantled and brought out. Very heavy duffels full of electrical cables were hauled out using counterweight techniques. Once outside, the equipment was sorted, checked, and stored. Due to the extreme conditions of use, all the technical equipment had to be verified and tested.

The ventilation hoses, the pump tubing, the electrical cables were rolled up by the surface teams. The polyethylene tubes resisted being rolled up due to the winter temperatures. It took many volunteers to force them into 10-foot-diameter loops. Little by little, the equipment was stored in the containers.

The organization of the derig is progressing. It is expected that the Puits de Ronze will be empty of all equipment and gear by Sunday evening or at the latest Monday. On Tuesday, the trailers and the containers will be returned to their owner. Then the road and the land around the Puits de Ronze will have to be restored.

-Yvonne
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Jan 17, 2011 12:51 pm

After one week of dismantling and bringing up equipment, a critical task remained on Saturday January 15: the large HP pump needed to come out. The two pieces had already been brought to the base of the entrance pit series. The team, composed of many volunteers, took their posts at various levels in the pits. The two parcels, both heavy and voluminous, were hauled out using counterweight technique, one in a rescue stretcher, and the other in its protective sheath. In spite of well-rehearsed technique, intense efforts were necessary to make the 200-pound motor and the slightly less heavy pump body move through the pits. At the bottom, the last crew dismantled the pumps in Sump 1. Those were also brought out with most of their accessories.

At the surface, the tubes and sheaths were rolled up and put away as they came out. The pump tent was taken down. After an exhausting Saturday, all the pumping equipment was outside of the cave.

Sunday Jan 16 was dedicated to removing the tubes and sheaths. The last electric line was also brought to the bottom of the pit series. The electric panel came out. By the end of the afternoon, all that remained in the Puits de Ronze were the ventilation hoses, two lengths of polyethylene, the phone line, and of course the rigging.

Work will resume on Tuesday morning. Another day or two are needed to complete the removal of equipment and the derig.

-Yvonne
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby burrencrawler » Jan 18, 2011 8:07 pm

Christ, I have to say i have the utmost of admiration for all the people who were involved in this rescue. I mean it doesn't bear thinking about the amount of time, dedication, money, and technical coordination together with the deep expertise of all the divers also involved. This has to be one of the hardest and longest 24hr around the clock relentless rescue attempt of all time. Maybe I am wrong but i have not heard of anything like this since poor old Floyd Collins. It is Olympic, well done.
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Jan 20, 2011 11:42 am

On Tuesday, Jan 18, 2011, all the equipment stored in the containers and in the trailer was sorted and put in piles by owner and destination. The empty containers and the trailer were returned to the supplier.

Underground, all the equipment still remaining in the meander was brought to the base of the entrance pits. The first sections of ventilation tubing came out of the cave. Then the last cable had to be brought out. All cavers present on site took position in various parts of the pits and on the surface and started slowly hoisting out the cable. By the end of the day, nothing electrical remained underground except for the telephone line. An inventory of what’s left in the Puits de Ronze was made. If all goes well, in one or two more days both polyethylene tubes, all sheaths, the phone line, and all ropes from the rigging can come out. About ten cavers will be necessary in cave and four at the surface.

The last remaining tasks will be done on Friday and should end on Saturday, and an appeal was made for volunteers.

-Yvonne
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby yvonnedroms » Jan 24, 2011 11:35 am

On Friday Jan 21, a team of five volunteers hauled out the two last pieces of the polyethylene tubing from the base of the entrance pits as far as the top of the 45 m pit. Four bags of bits and pieces of tubing, sheaths, pipes, etc. were also brought out of the cave.

On Saturday Jan 22, fourteen volunteers were present on site. Twelve of them went underground, and they brought out everything that remained in the cave, including telephone wire, ropes, etc . One team went to Sump 1 to make sure nothing had been left behind. After the last caver came out, the ventilation system was stopped for good at 7:50 pm. The cave is completely derigged.

On Sunday, January 23, 2011, sixteen people were present on site. The surface infrastructure at the entrance of the Puits de Ronze was completely dismantled. The gear that had been brought out of the cave (ropes, carabiners, rigging, etc.) was sorted and put away. The large tent was emptied so that it could be taken down in the next few days by the local Ardèche cavers. All gear and equipment was stored safe and secure, under cover.

The entrance of the Puits de Ronze was locked up at the request of the owner, who now holds the key.

The operation ended at 4:30 pm.

-Yvonne
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Re: Cave diving rescue in France

Postby MUD » Jan 24, 2011 4:48 pm

:clap: Thank you Yvonne for your translating and reporting of this tragic incident. :clap:
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