Long ordeal in fly-infested hole
Ngarua Caves worker Evelyn Dalzell first knew a woman had tumbled down a sinkhole when Karen Monahan ran in to the cafe where she was working about 10.30am yesterday to call 111.
A tourist in the cafe had seen an ambulance in the car park above the caves on SH60 and so emergency services were quickly summoned. Ms Dalzell said two ambulances, two fire engines and two police cars were soon on the scene but emergency workers were unable to extract the fallen woman, Jill Clendon.
Ms Clendon and Mrs Monahan had been setting up an orienteering course on private farm land near the caves when the accident happened. Ms Dalzell said they had been given permission to access the land by owner David Hobson, who also owns the Ngarua Caves complex.
Emergency services had contacted the Nelson Speleological Group, which mounts rescues in caves, and although many of its members were out in the hills caving on Waitangi Day, six members had been on standby since 11am.
They had gathered equipment and were on the scene by about 1pm, said group member Leo Viersma from Richmond.
Ambulance staff had already thrown first aid supplies down to Ms Clendon, so she had already assessed and bandaged herself, said Mr Viersma.
They knew that she was not badly enough injured to have to be stretchered out and so one of the team members, Dion Richards, abseiled down the hole with a harness for Ms Clendon.
Mr Viersma said the hole was about nine to 10 metres deep, where a slope ran down a few more metres.
He said it was lucky that a dead cow on the slope had broken Ms Clendon's fall because her injuries could have been worse had she hit rock.
The team set up two more lines and a pulley system so the line to haul Ms Clendon up could drop without any rub points and a belay line could catch her should anything go wrong with the main haul line. Ms Richards attached the climbing harness to Ms Clendon and as she was being hauled up, climbed alongside her to make sure all went well.
Mr Viersma said the hauling itself took less than 20 minutes and that setting up and breaking down the "three-to-one haul system" took most of the time.
Ms Clendon was out of the hole by
about 3pm, bringing an end to more than four hours down the cold, fly-infested fissure.
Mr Viersma said it was "quite rare" for someone to fall down a sinkhole, and the last rescue he was involved with was pulling three sheep out of one 18 months ago, to the relief of a grateful farmer. He had also been involved in the 2007 rescue of Motueka caver Mike Brewer from another Takaka Hill cave.
He said the Nelson Speleological Group maintained a highly-regarded volunteer rescue team who held local trainings annually as well as taking part in national exercises.
"You can't just send firies or police underground in that situation because they don't have the experience to know how complicated things can get down there," he said.
Ms Dalzell said the number of rescue personnel on the scene meant that Ms Clendon was well supported when she was stuck down the hole, and she was sent food, water, ice-packs and even fly spray from a tourist.
"The thing that concerned me was other tourists wandering over to take a look; there's holes all over the place. People need to know it's not land you just wander over, it's private farm land," she said.
Christchurch tourist David Chambers, who watched the rescue, said he was happy to see Ms Clendon walk away unaided.