2 April 2024

ANU students pulled safely from Jenolan Caves in 'exhausting' overnight rescue

| Claire Fenwicke
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rescuers in Jenolan Caves

It took several hours of painstaking work in tight spaces to free two ANU students from an area of the Jenolan Caves. Photo: VRA Rescue NSW.

Two trapped ANU cave explorers have been successfully rescued following an almost 10-hour overnight operation at Jenolan Caves.

The two students – a man and a woman – were part of a group of six who had entered the caves west of the Blue Mountains on Easter Saturday (30 March).

Oberon SES member Craig Gibbons said the alarm was raised at about 7:20 pm when the first four adventurers had managed to exit the cave system.

“The man was stuck in a tight and narrow spot in the cave with a woman behind him,” he said.

NSW Police, VRA Rescue and ambulance crews were also called to the scene to assist.

Specialised cave rescue, communications equipment and techniques were needed to extricate the pair through the narrow, tight passage over several hours.

“We entered the cave from the other side and needed to drill small holes and chisel some of the rock wall away so we were able to free the trapped man,” Mr Gibbons said.

“Once we got the man free, we handed him and the female over to paramedics, and it was great to see them both walk away from the scene safe and well despite it taking many hours to get him free.”

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VRA Rescue NSW Captain Alan Warild described these situations as “rare” but also “extremely complex”.

“[They] require highly trained cave rescue operators who are familiar with these types of rescues,” he said.

“A rescue like this that goes for several hours can be quite exhausting for all involved.”

The pair were freed at about 4:45 am on Easter Sunday morning.

Many sections of Jenolan Caves are known as ‘show’ caves, set up for tourists to wander through pre-lit caves with steps added to make the trips more accessible.

This group had been through one of the adventure caves, where explorers generally need to wear overalls and a helmet with a head torch.

Mr Gibbons said while he’d conducted about half a dozen rescues in show caves over the years, this was his first in the adventure caves.

“[They] are more dangerous as they’re in much tighter areas that are difficult to access,” he said.

“We need to be very fit and do a lot of caving and canyoning to build our experience. We do a lot of training to build our skills, and it was just great to get a successful outcome today.”

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An ANU spokesperson confirmed the pair were from the university’s Caving Club and that no one had been injured.

“The University is relieved that all club members are well and safe and that no one was harmed in this incident,” they said.

“ANU thanks all first responders who were quickly on the scene and who ensured the safety and wellbeing of the club members.”

The National University Caving Club’s (NUCC) webpage stated the club held regular trips to Jenolan Caves, but it’s unclear if this group was part of a club activity.

Region has reached out to the NUCC for comment.

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Capital Retro7:50 pm 02 Apr 24

Only critical thinking cavers can handle this.

I can feel that agoraphobic feeling coming on just reading this article. I am glad to see these cavers well and safely rescued thanks to the professionalism and skills of the rescuers. All caves including Adventure caves can be very dangerous places. They are not all wide-open spaces designed for tourists to walk around and take in the sights. Caves have many tight spaces that require crawling through and branch off into many different directions. Many of these caves can only be accessed by abseiling down through holes in the ground that are sometimes hundreds of metres deep and travel for many miles. It is easy to get trapped and lost.
One hopes the NUCC and these cavers are better informed and prepared for caving in the future!

*Claustrophobia. I’ll have to get head around my phobics!

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