Caving Rescue Techniques To Know Before Your Next Trip

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Beware: You should never explore wild caves alone or without proper gear. Consider getting in touch with a Grotto of the National Speleological Society at or a qualified cave club. These groups are skilled and will train you. Without sufficient knowledge, preparation, and equipment, cave exploring can lead to serious injury or death.

Caving can be enjoyable, but also comes with risks. Cavers who are negligent about the risks can suffer serious injuries, or worse. Sometimes cavers find themselves in situations where they need to be rescued. In a caving rescue situation, it can turn from bad to ugly quickly if the party is not prepared.

A good rescuer knows what techniques best suit their condition and how to use them properly to get the victim out safely.

It’s possible to help someone in a dire situation even if you aren’t an expert. That is what this article aims to do today. You can reduce the chance of any injuries or other unexpected danger, by learning some of these caving rescue techniques.

Caving Rescue Situations

We’ve categorized rescue situations into different types.

  1. a single person injured or stuck in a cave.
  2. multiple people injured or stuck in a cave.
  3. caves who got lost on their caving trip and cannot find their way back out of the cave system.

You will need to know how to deal with each rescue situation before going underground. If you are planning on becoming certified as an underground caver, then look at getting training from someone with experience in these situations so that they can teach you how best to handle them before any incidents occur.

Men from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command helped authorities rescue youth football players and their coach in 2018, pictured here.
Airmen from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command prepared for dive operations July 2, 2018, at Chiang Rai, Thailand, to assist Thai rescue authorities searching for 12 youth football players and their coach.

Vertical Caving Rescue

This is the most common type of cave rescue. Sometimes a victim gets trapped in a vertical position, such as under a rockfall or within the narrow confines of an underground passage.

Vertical rescue may use ropes to lower the casualty to their rescuers or harnesses and retrieval systems.

For a vertical recovery to be successful, you must assess your casualty’s condition and use appropriate equipment, techniques, communication, and safety measures.

Horizontal Caving Rescue

Rescuers will likely need to use a pulley system to haul the casualty out of the cave. There are many horizontal pulleys, but they all consist of wire rope and carabiners.

The carabiner acts as an anchor point, while the wire rope runs through it, attached to a handle on either end of the wire rope.

By pulling on one or both ends simultaneously, rescuers can raise their partner from their location inside the cave toward them. Once they are closer and in the open, they can remove them safely outside.

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Recovery of the Casualty

Place the casualty in a sitting position, with the uninjured side up. When immobilizing the injured side, use padding to protect it from further injury and make another movement impossible.

It is also essential to keep their head upright. Try to prevent them from turning their head on either side; this can cause further damage or even unconsciousness.

If you are using a stretcher, place padding beneath the person’s body before placing them on it. This will keep them comfortable and ensure they do not slide off during transport.

A group of cavers helps a victim to be placed on a stretcher during a rescue effort.

For litter carrying (a basket suspended from ropes), attach one end of each string to your harnesses, then pass these through slings attached to either side of the basket before tying off securely at another anchor point higher than yourself.

Casualty Assessment

A casualty assessment is the first thing you should do when attending a casualty. You must assess the situation as soon as possible and make decisions based on your observations. This should be done before attempting any actual evacuation during the caving rescue, to ensure the victim is in a safe condition to be moved.

The ABCD of Casualty Assessment stands for Airway, Breathing, Circulation, and Disability (or Distress).

  • Airway – Is the casualty’s airway clear? Could they be choking?
  • Breathing – Is their breathing normal and regular or irregular? Are they taking any breaths at all?
  • Circulation – Does the victim show signs of circulation, such as a pulse at either side of their neck or wrist/ankle area?

If so, check that it’s strong enough by feeling for themselves on your wrist or ankle area. You may need to place one hand over theirs so you can feel both pulses simultaneously. This gives you an idea about how good their circulation is compared with yours at that moment.

  • Disability & Distress (D) – Can the casualty move or respond appropriately when spoken to; does anything appear abnormal about how they look or behave?

If the casualty has a disability or is in distress, check that you know how to help them. If they don’t have a disability or are not in pain, then there is no need to check this box.

A caving rescue team pulls a victim on a  stretcher to safety.

Preparation for Evacuation

Before attempting to evacuate a casualty, ensure that they have the right equipment.

If a casualty cannot walk or communicate, prepare to carry them out of the cave. The rescuers should use a thick rope tied around their waist to secure them to another rescuer while walking out of the cave.

Tie the rope tight, and double check. Make sure it will not cause any harm or discomfort when moving through tight spaces or around obstacles in your path. The other end of this rope should be tied around the chest area of one person. They follow behind you as you carry your pack and walk with your lighter load up front, where extra weight cannot be added.

It may also be helpful if more than one person is assisting with carrying out someone who cannot walk independently due to severe injuries such as an amputation or broken bones.

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Use the Technique Best for the Victim and Condition of the Cave

It is important to note that many different types of cave rescue techniques exist. The kind you use may depend on the victim and the cave, but never forget to think about yourself too.

It is essential to know what type of cave rescue technique you are using so that when faced with a situation where you may need to use it, you can do so successfully.

If the victim can walk independently, having them take off their pack and walk out the front of your team line will be the easiest option. If they cannot walk on their own or if multiple people need assistance getting out of a cave, then some form of stretcher may be required.

In some cases, it takes a lot more than one person. On uneven ground and with limited light or space, a team effort is a minimum to execute a safe evacuation. If this is your situation, ensure everyone knows their role and stick with it until you’re all out safely. The primary goal of a cave rescue is to get the victim out alive.

Check that you brought all the necessary equipment before entering any cave, especially if you’re alone.

We also recommend always letting someone know where you’re going and when you should return home. If they know you aren’t home as scheduled, it will make it easier to figure out if you need help.


Exploration of caves is an exciting and rewarding activity. But it is up to us to be responsible when exploring the wild. If you get lost or injured in a cave, the best way to survive is to remain calm. Proper preparation will help you think clearly and assess the situation. In addition, now that you are familiar with a few rescue techniques, you should not feel lost in such situations.

Using these rescue techniques, you can make intelligent decisions and put your knowledge of caving into action.

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