South Okanagan rescue crews saved a 50-year-old woman from Vancouver who fell into a cave in the Skaha Bluffs recreational area.
First responders were called to the area just before noon on Monday. Penticton Search and Rescue (PENSAR) aided in assessing the woman’s condition.
“This was a complex event with lots of logistics and moving parts,” said Search and Rescue manager Randy Brown. “However, everyone had their eye on the objective and the teamwork was seamless.”
According to PENSAR, early reports indicated the woman was inside the cave when she suffered the 7.6-metre fall. Two other friends who were with her were able to climb out and call 911. While PENSAR was coordinating an air response, local RCMP and Penticton fire crews attended to the rescue area.
By 1 p.m., PENSAR determined the woman was about 18 metres inside the cave, and, due to the complexity of the cave, immediately requested the assistance of the B.C. and Alberta Cave Rescue Team.
Over the next several hours, 14 cave rescue experts from Vancouver Island, Lower Mainland and the Interior were flown into Penticton by aircraft from the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA).
Doug Munroe, co-ordinator for B.C. and Alberta Cave Rescue, said the rescue was challenging.
“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.”
Brown estimates that up to 50 rescue personnel were engaged from around B.C. Local resources included 22 PENSAR members, several volunteer CASARA aircraft and pilots, 14 cave rescue personnel (with at least another 12 en route before being stood down) along with four Penticton Fire Rescue personnel, local police and two local helicopter companies.
A helicopter was used to help transport the 50-year-old woman to hospital. Just before 4 p.m., a helicopter transported a cave expert from the staging area to the rescue site. Around 7 p.m., crews carried out a long line rescue before flying the woman out by helicopter.
She was taken to hospital by ambulance with unknown injuries.
A witness told Global News that 14 search and rescue members, fire crews, police and ambulance had also attended the scene and a command post had been set up.
He said that after visiting the command post around 2 p.m., he learned that rescuers had made it to the cave entrance but had not had any contact so far with the patient.