Due to the challenging nature of the terrain, it took rescuers over seven hours to extract a Lower Mainland woman who fell 60-feet while inside a cave at the Skaha Bluffs climbing area on Monday.
The 50 year old female, who was brought to the surface at 7 p.m., is now at Kelowna General Hospital being treated for severe head and upper body injuries.
“This was a complex event with lots of logistics and moving parts, however, everyone had their eye on the objective and the teamwork was seamless,” said Randy Brown, Penticton and District Search and Rescue manager.
Up to 50 rescue personnel, from around the province, were assisting with the rescue. That includes cave rescue experts from Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland and the Interior who were flown into Penticton by the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA).
“All cave events are a challenge and complex especially when working in confined spaces as you have low visibility, unstable rock and then you add an injured subject to the mix and everything gets more complicated,” said Doug Munroe, co-ordinator for Alberta/B.C. Cave Rescue.
Penticton and District Search and Rescue were alerted around 11:36 a.m. that the woman had fallen while climbing at the popular area located just on the outskirts of the Penticton city limits, at the Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park.
Brown said early reports indicated that the female subject was inside the cave when she suffered the 25-foot fall. Two other friends who were with the subject were able to climb out and call 911. While PENSAR was co-ordinating an air response local RCMP and Penticton Fire Department crews attended to the rescue area.
“By 1 p.m. search and rescue on scene determined that the subject was about 60-feet inside the cave structure and, due to the complexity of the incident, immediately requested the assistance of the B.C./Alberta Cave Rescue Team,” said Brown.
While awaiting cave rescue experts, 20 members of the Penticton search and rescue team along with four Penticton fire/rescue service members began preparing the rescue site with ropes, stretchers and medical equipment while maintaining communication with the subject. By 3 p.m. the first of the cave rescuers had arrived, and three hours later, with over 25 personnel on scene, the slow but challenging extraction out of the cave began. Brown said the woman was brought to the surface by 7 p.m. and was transferred to a stretcher and airlifted out of the area by a search and rescue helicopter long-line team to a nearby ambulance.
The woman was taken to Penticton Regional Hospital then, due to the extent of her injuries, to the Kelowna for further treatment.
Local resources used to rescue the woman included 22 Penticton and District Search and Rescue members, several volunteer CASARA aircraft and pilots, 14 cave rescue personnel (and another dozen en-route before being stood down), four Penticton fire/rescue, local RCMP and two local helicopter companies.
“A joint effort that had a successful conclusion,” said Brown.
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