Trapped cavers rescued

21:09, Mar 09 2014
Lindsay Main and Alice Shanks
EXPERIENCED: Christchurch caving couple Lindsay Main and Alice Shanks.

Explosives were used to smash through rock and free a Christchurch caving couple who were trapped for 16 hours in a virgin cave beneath Mt Arthur.

The pair were forced to spend Saturday night about 100 metres underground "snuggled deep under survival blankets in wet clothing" as the temperature dropped to about 5 degrees Celsius.

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.

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, 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 Shanks realised her husband was trapped, she crawled back into the cavern to hold vigil by his side - despite suffering a cracked 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," York said.

A specialised cave rescue team flew to Mt Arthur 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 Main.

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

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

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

They spent last night in Nelson and were expected to return to Christchurch this week.

The Press