Friend ‘held hand of injured caver’ as rescuers battled to save him

·4-min read

A friend of an injured caver who was rescued after 54 hours in the UK’s deepest cave system has told how she comforted him during the mission to get him out, as over £10,000 was raised for the team that saved him.

George Linnane, 38, an engineer from Bristol, became stuck after falling in Ogof Ffynnon DDu, in the Brecon Beacons, at around 1pm on Saturday.

Around 300 cavers came to Mr Linnane’s aid during what became the longest stretcher carry in British cave rescue history.

George Linnane
George Linnane (Mark Burkey/PA)

Mr Linnane suffered back, leg and facial injuries when he fell down a shaft after a boulder he stepped on gave way but was able to stay in “high spirits” and talked throughout as he was carried towards the exit by volunteers.

He is being treated in the University Hospital of Wales (UHW) in Cardiff and is said to be doing “remarkably well”.

Maxine Bateman described the moment she reached her friend as part of a group that went into the caves on Sunday morning.

“It took about an hour for us to reach where the rescue had got to so far,” Ms Bateman said.

“When I first saw George I was really, really upset. It made me feel quite sick to my stomach to think a friend of mine had had an accident,.

“I held his hand, stroked his fingers and he gave me a squeeze of his hand back. It was nice to feel that from him. I felt that was him telling me ‘I’m OK’.

“Just to be able to give him that level of comfort, I’d say it was intimate, but it was more like I’m here for you.”

Ogof Ffynnon Ddu cave rescue
Rescuers walk towards the Ogof Ffynnon Ddu cave system near Penwyllt (Ben Birchall/PA)

She added: “Later on it was much, much easier knowing we were all here for him and we were making progress and he was going to come out of that cave.

“You never know who it might be. It could be me. You always hope it would never be a big enough rescue to need as many as George did. But in this case it did need a lot of us and a lot of us turned up and we were there for him.”

Ms Bateman said rescuers had to navigate through tight passages and over large boulders, making it difficult terrain over which to carry a severely injured person.

“For every hour you cave yourself it takes about 10 hours to rescue you,” she said.

Pictures posted by the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team (SMWCRT), after Mr Linnane had been brought to safety, show him being passed along a human chain through waterfalls, narrow tunnels and over sheer drops.

Ogof Ffynnon Ddu cave rescue
Rescuers carry George Linnane on a stretcher through the cave to safety (South & Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team/PA)

There has been a outpouring of public support for the teams involved in the rescue and a number of fundraising pages set up for the SMWCRT, which are based in Penwyllt near the cave system in the Swansea Valley.

The experienced caver’s mother Sally Linnane-Hemmens has been one of the people to set up a page collecting money to support the group’s work.

Thanking them on social media, she said: “It’s been a horrendous time.

“These guys, along with several other cave rescue teams from across the UK, saved my son’s life today.

“They are all volunteers and need every penny,” she added.

Ogof Ffynnon Ddu cave rescue
Gary Mitchell (left), who led the operation, was one of the experts to help save a Thai football team from a flooded cave in 2018 (Bronwen Weatherby/PA)

SMWCRT said in a Facebook post on Wednesday: “We’ve been humbled by the level of public support we have recived [sic]. Your kind comments, messages and donations will help get our team back to operational readyness [sic].

“Spare a thought for those who continue the clean up this week, washing equipment, liaising with the press and other agencies and heading back underground to retreive [sic] kit and keep the cave clean.”

Their aim is now to raise £15,000 after thousands of pounds worth of equipment became lost or damaged, and over two days worth of food and supplies were needed to accommodate the hundreds of volunteers.

The operation was led by Gary Mitchell, one of the experts who helped save a team of young Thai footballers from a flooded cave system in 2018.

The assistant chairman of the British Cave Rescue Council received a knighthood from Thailand after he was part of an international team of 90 cavers who successfully rescued all 12 members of the Moo Pa Wild Boars football team and their coach after they became trapped deep inside the Tham Luag cave in the north of the country.

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