Date of Incident

27/10/2019

Country

England

Incident

8 of us were in the group at Chairladder for some relatively simple multi-pitch trad climbing. Some had climbed there before, others had not. All party members were experienced climbers to varying degrees. The weather was excellent, clear, little or no wind, sea state calm.

We all abseiled in next to Terriers Tooth. Party [1] of 2 were climbing Terriers Tooth, party [2] of 3 were on Diocese (I was leading this route), party [3] of 2 climbers were on Flannel Avenue. A single climber was taking pictures from the base and was autonomous.

At the time of the incident:
Party 1 leader was on the mid-height belay, bringing up second.
Party 2 leader was at the 2nd belay (having run pitches 1 & 2 together to belay at the same spot as Flannel Avenue), bringing up both seconds. Semi-hanging belay to maintain view of both seconds under the roof.
Party 3 leader was on the top crack of the top pitch of Diocese running 2nd of Flannel Avenue with top of diocese 3. Second was on belay near to party 2 leader.

Incident:
At approx 12:00 Party 2 leader witnessed the end of a fall that leader of party 3 had taken from the top pitch of Diocese. The leader was now inverted in a star position and had sustained an obvious head injury which was bleeding. The leader was unresponsive, but moving in what looked like a daze.
The party 3 belayer had held the fall, but had not witnessed it, being slightly higher and to the left of party 2 leader (who was on the arete in a semi-hangin belay).
The casualty remained unresponsive for approx 1 min. until they did respond in a vague manner and then did re-right themselves after a further 30-60 seconds. Communication with the casualty was good thereafter.

Whilst a response was being sought, leader party 2 communicated with party 1 (Terriers Tooth) and told them of the incident, asked them to make their way to the top of the crag asap and prepare for evacuation. Single photographer made their own way to the top via abseil rope.

Party 2's seconds then arrived at the belay. Second 1 attempted to contact emergency services, but signal was weak. Second 2 arrived at belay shortly afterwards. A swift battle plan was put in place:
Second 2 would lead through, check the casualty over, make safe and proceed to top of crag to bring others up so as to hoist casualty asap.
Second 1 now did contact emergency services through text service.

Second 2 proceeded to reach casualty, check and make safe before leading on to the top of the 3rd pitch.
Party leader 2 now followed, checking casualty again, talking to them before proceeding to top of 3rd pitch.
By now, party 1 was at top of pitch 3 waiting for action. At that point in time 2 other climbers were noticed walking down to the abseil point and were asked to assist - which they did without question (many thanks for your help and input Martin and Jamie).

Party leader 2 sort of took the lead role, in terms of shouting out and rationalising options/alternative suggestions from all party members. The decision was made to 'man-handle' haul the casualty to the top of the crag.
With 7 people now at the top of pitch 3 (not entirely safe ground, but managable with plenty of belay points) there was plenty of strength available to do this. Party 2 second 2 who had led up to the casualty stayed at the edge to act as persistant belayer and 'banksman' for communication between haulers and casualty.
Party 2 second 1 was belayed up to be with casualty by party second 2.
Continuous input from all sides was rationalised to add a main belay to the haul rope and back up with an auto-block. Others made safe to flakes etc. A rope was lowered to the casualty and on the instructions of the banksman/belayer the rest of us hauled the casualty to the top. There were a few stops, but this only took perhaps 2 minutes.
Casualty was now at the top of pitch 3 and was still needing to get to completely safe ground.
At this point it became apparent that they had also injured both ankles and were having trouble walking.
They were assisted around boulders and obstacles to safe ground by group members leapfrogging around them protecting the way and assisting with removing weight from ankles until a fully safe position was arrived at.

This was right next to the coastal lookout station and this was open so the casualty was removed to there to be made comfortable.
Remaining persons were belayed to the top of the crag and all were at top within one hour of incident. Further conversation with emergency services to confirm ambulance. Member of party 1 was dispatched to meet with the ambulance and guide them to the site.
Ambulance arrived at 13:15 - examined casualty as not in immediate danger, but took to hospital for complete check up.
The ambulance having left, the rest of us called it a day @14.00.
The casualty was cleared later that evening and was back with us.






Lessons

The leader slipped off a relatively simple (but not easy) move. It happens.
They fell approx 10metres in total as the top piece of protection that they were down climbing to check, ripped out! It is believed that hitting the ledge 3m below caused the ankle injuries and pitched the falling climber over backwards where the head injury was sustained before falling a further 7 m.
This climber was not wearing a helmet and was the only member of the group to not be doing so.
Given there were a large number climbing together within close proximity and with plenty of equipment this incident had a very successful outcome. Had there been 2 people on there own, it would have been an entirely different matter and extremely reliant on help from other places.
Mobile phone signals are fickle and cannot be relied on. That said, it is well worth registering your phone for the emergency text service and it was still worth carrying one.
All party members were mature climbers. The experience in the party was reasonable, some also had 1st aid training. Party 2 leader's major concern was the head injury which needed urgent examination - this focused the efforts on evacuation.
No one panicked.
Everyone listened and had input.
Everyone checked out each other - were they safe where they were, tied on, were they ok? Do not switch off when you think you are on easy ground - make safe and recheck.
There needs to be one focal point/leader to collect ideas and make a decision (we did not go into cliques and do your own thing). They should not be afraid of being challenged and corrected if the alternative is a better/safer course of action, but don't get bogged down in options - a decision will need to be made. You do need experience of this and you will only get it by being in a training or real situation.
You must keep constant communication with the casualty to reassure them and to gain all information as to their condition. We did not know they had hurt their ankles as the focus was on the head injury. This was remiss of us as they could have injured them more by being hauled up the crag!
Had they been wearing a helmet it is assumed that they would only have sustained the ankle injuries (and would still have needed evacuation), but perhaps they may have sustained neck injuries instead - who knows? They have now bought a helmet anyway.
These are classic routes and should never be underestimated given they are in the lower grades. Slips can occur at any time.
It is always better to be educated/trained than not - so make sure you have some first aid training to be able to prioritise injuries. Make sure you understand simple rescue techniques and when to apply them and when not to bother (we did discuss setting up a winch - everyone gets taught these, but when you have lots of strong arms, just haul!).
Do not underestimate how emotional these incidents can be. Train yourself mentally, prepare/analyse everytime you go climbing - think how you could get out of the situation you are in for bad things happened. You can have a wobble later on, not during the incident, you are needed.
Do not be afraid to ask for help - it's not obligatory to help out, but Martin and Jamie didn't hesitate to assist.
It was a good result and we all learned a lot from this...in a good way...thank goodness for that.

The chaps in the coastal lookout (volunteers) are in direct contact with the coastguard, so if you ever need direct action - they are the people to head for. He did a very nice tour of the lookout as well!

Activity

Trad rock climbing

When

Ascending

Injury

Serious injury requiring medical treatment

Causes

Slip, trip or fall

Anonymous?

Yes

Reported By

Participant

Wearing Helmets?

Some

Rescue Services Involved?

Ambulance.

For more advice and guidance on good practices visit BMC skills

All reports are self-submitted and have not been edited by the BMC in any way, so please keep an open mind regarding the lessons and causes of each incident or near-miss.