Rescuers speak of desperate attempts to save Yorkshire Dales caver Harry Hesketh

Rescuers have spoken of their desperate attempts to free an experienced caver fatally injured when he fell 20ft inside a cave in North Yorkshire.
The rescue mission at Curtain PotThe rescue mission at Curtain Pot
The rescue mission at Curtain Pot

Rescuers have spoken of their desperate attempts to free an experienced caver fatally injured when he fell 20ft inside a cave in North Yorkshire.

Harry Hesketh, 74, was exploring a remote part of the Yorkshire Dales with two friends on Saturday morning when he fell at around 11.30am, suffering a broken femur.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

His companions ran to get help and emergency rescue teams rushed to the scene at Curtain Pot on Fountains Fell.

The rescue operation at Curtain PotThe rescue operation at Curtain Pot
The rescue operation at Curtain Pot

A total of 94 volunteers worked tirelessly for over 17-and-a-half hours. More than 70 personnel were on site below and above the ground, as well as volunteers providing food and drink, coordinating resources, both human and equipment, and communications.

Phil James, duty controller for the Cave Rescue Organisation (CRO), described how workers struggled due to the narrowness of the passages and the fact it was an unknown cave, meaning it hadn't been mapped.

Mr James said: "The nature of the dig made it extremely difficult for us and because the cave had not been mapped we had no idea what we were going to at first.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"The cave had not been explored before and there were no rigging points to help us get in and out, but the remaining explorers were extremely helpful in giving us all the information they could.

"We managed to get the first group who had medical equipment in to help the man as soon as we could. He was receiving the best medical care we could provide."

As well the the CRO, mountain rescue teams from across Yorkshire and Cumbria and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency were involved in the operation.

Mr James said: Due to the nature of his injuries it was clear he would not be able to help himself by moving or supporting his weight and it soon became clear he would have to be immobilised.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"Rescuers worked tirelessly using mechanical drills which blasted bits of the rock away as they desperately tried to make more room to rescue him from the cave.

"We didn't want to move him until we could get him all the way out as it would have caused him more harm. He was given oxygen and painkillers to manage his pain."

Despite their best efforts, Mr Hesketh died at around 11.30pm, 12 hours after his fall.

Mr James said: "Just before we were able to move him out, he succumbed to his injuries and died. It was very difficult for all of those involved in trying to help him.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I would like to give full credit to everyone involved, everyone was so determined that we could get him out and it is just devastating for all involved.

"He was a long way underground and once someone becomes injured they can become very cold, but we kept him as warm as we could. For whatever reason what we did was not enough and he didn't make it. We don't know why, but in time I am sure we will find out exactly what happened."

Workers continued with their efforts and Mr Hesketh's body was pulled out of the cave at around 5.15am on Sunday.

Mr James described what happened as a tragic accident.

He said: "These were experienced cavers who have been doing this a long time. This is the nature of explorations and there are risks involved.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"It was a tragic accident that happened in the worst possible place and there is nothing that could have been done differently.

"They were just doing something they loved, they were doing everything they could to make it as safe as possible, but accidents do happen.

"On behalf of everyone here we would like to send our condolences to the man's family. We are extremely sorry for their loss."

Mr Hesketh's heartbroken daughter Wendy Uchimura paid tribute to her father, who previously worked as computer programmer in Skipton, and also thanked the rescuer's who tried to save his life.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She said: "My dad was extremely active and, with his nearly 60 years of experience, loved nothing more than getting out on the fells and exploring caves and potholes.

"My deepest thanks go to everyone who came out to try and help him - the cave rescue organisations, the rescue teams, air ambulance, and individuals.

"Their incredible efforts are greatly appreciated."

The CRO is a voluntary organisation which relies solely on donations.

Since Mr Hesketh's death more than £8,000 has been raised for the registered charity to help them replenish the equipment used in Saturday's rescue mission.

Anyone wishing to donate to the appeal can do so by clicking here.