Stuck cavers' name sticks with passage

00:00, Mar 10 2014

A caving couple will have a tight rock passageway named after them after a successful rescue using explosives.

Highly experienced cavers Lindsay Main, 62, and Alice Shanks, 52, had been exploring the newly discovered Pillar Cave in Kahurangi National Park, near Nelson, with 16 other caving enthusiasts when Mr Main was unable to return through the passageway.

The Christchurch couple had to spend 16 hours beneath Mt Arthur until they were rescued yesterday.

Now suggestions for naming that section include Mainline and Aspiring Point - in reference to the company they run, Aspiring Safety Products, that makes outdoor equipment for climbing, tramping and caving, NZ Speleological Society president John Patterson said.

The rescue involving cavers, Landsar, police and the Nelson Marlborough rescue helicopter went well, he said.

Mt Arthur's underground caving system is the deepest in the southern hemisphere, descending about 1200 metres.


Mr Main, who has been caving since the 1980s, became stuck after he wormed his way through a tiny passageway and was unable to get back through.

The squeeze was so tight he had to lie on one side and try to shuffle his way around a 90 degree corner to make it into the untouched cavern on the other side.

His wife and two other cavers also crawled through the squeeze, but managed to make it out again.

However, Mr Main's height meant it was "difficult for him to get in and impossible for him to get out," Nelson Police search and rescue spokesman Malcolm York said.

When Ms Shanks realised her husband was trapped, she crawled back into the cavern to hold vigil by his side, despite cracking a rib earlier that day.

Their fellow cavers contacted police about 9pm and were able to pass through blankets, heat packs and food to help the couple make it through the night.

"The resourcefulness of the other cavers is what kept them alive," Mr York said.

A specialised cave rescue team flew to Mt Arthur early yesterday morning.

The three-man team, from the Nelson Speleological Group (NSG), used miniature explosives to blast away a piece of rock about the size of a basketball to widen the passage for Mr Main.

Dion Richards, from NSG, said the team had to navigate through 25m of "up and down crawly bits" before even reaching the squeeze.

Mr Richards and fellow NSG member Andrew Smith are two of only four people in New Zealand who are trained to blast for cave rescues.

Using electronic detonation, they co-ordinated controlled explosives to blast away a piece of rock that was obstructing Mr Main's escape.

The velocity of the explosive charges travelled at 7200m a second and "smashes the rock into little pieces without causing massive shock waves", Mr Richards said. "We have been training for exactly this scenario for about four years and it was the very first time we have been able to use our training."

"It was a pretty good bang," Mr Main told 3News last night.

"It shook the cave, even where we were, probably 40m away."

The rescued couple were flown back to Nelson via helicopter and received minor medical treatment.

They spent last night in Nelson and are returning to Christchurch today.

Mr Patterson said they were keen cavers and he expected they would be back. "They will probably be a little bit more careful about what section they go into next time."