29 October 2023

Surface controller at Minera

After having had my first taste of being a controller during an evening exercise in Cwmorthin, this stakes would be upped. We had a full day practice coming up, and our chairman had decided that we, the aspirant controllers, would have to lead that. He would set up a scenario.

It was going to be an early start. The venue, Minera Lead Mine, is about 1.5 hours away, by car. And I was supposed to be there by 9 AM. Initially I was going to make that more pleasant by car sharing with Nick, but he turned out to be unwell. As only us aspirant controllers were supposed to be there at 9, and everybody else at 9:30, I figured I would travel alone. But then Sharon got in touch; she was up for car sharing anyway! That was a nice surprise.

We got to Minera. I have been before but not often. Dewi, our chairman, took me and Ed apart. We were the only aspirant controllers there, so we had to sort this out! I was out of my depth; I wouldn’t be able to find a single entrance in the area, but I knew there were many. 

Dewi said the scenario was: one overdue person, not an experienced caver but in possession of a rope. He could be pretty much anywhere. We had to do a wide search. Ed decided on the four main entrances to check, and we sent out small scouting groups. We kept the medical chief back; as soon as one scouting party would radio in to say they had located the casualty, we could deploy him straight away. 

Pretty mine relic

After a while, the call came. He was found! With injuries. So we would send in the medic, and set up surface control near the actual entrance. 

I sat down on a mound, and the only thing I then could do was decide which kit to send with what people. Soon they were all in. And we hadn’t established communication yet! We had the Cavelink set up at the surface, and all we could do was wait for it to beep. Hard to tell how long it would take the underground lot to set up theirs! 

Surface control

When it finally beeped, a request came for more kit. I had to file a counter-request for people to come and get it. Underground control clearly wasn’t keeping track of who was where! But some people were sent out and we sent in the requested kit. And then we waited. And noted down all communications that came through. Casualty in casualty bag, stretcher reached casualty, casualty in spinal board, casualty plus spinal board in stretcher, stretcher starts to move, stretcher reaches first obstacle…

Apart from that there wasn’t much we could do. We had lunch. And chatted a bit. And admired all the dogs that walked by. Minera is clearly prime dog walking territory! And we wondered how long it would take. Dewi wanted the crew to get the casualty all the way out. We asked for an ETA. That came back as +5 hours! And it was already 3pm. Then it got adjusted to +7 hours. If it’s a real rescue you just live with that, but this was training, and we all also had things to do the next day. We couldn't wait for that. Dewi figured we should let them get to the second obstacle, because after that there would be space to take the casualty out of the stretcher, and turn him back into a healthy young man. But before that even happened, a message pinged in from underground, to ask if it was okay if they just packed up and came out. We said it sure was!

Paul checks if he can hear the underground lot yet 

From a message like that to everyone actually coming out might take a while. And when everyone is out we need to make sure we check we have all the material, and put that in the correct vehicle. And we needed a debrief.

After the debrief we could leave. For us westerners, it was still 1.5 hours driving. I was home approximately 19:45. It has been a long day! For me it would ideally have been a bit shorter. I spent hours doing very little, and I have more things to do with my life than just cave rescue. But still it had been a useful exercise. But I hope the next time I am acting as a controller, I am at least somewhat familiar with the venue!

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