THE heroic efforts of the fell and cave rescue organisations who worked in vain to bring fellow caver Harry ‘Eski’ Hesketh, from Bradley, to the surface of Curtin Pot on June1 has been recorded by one of the rescuers on that tragic day.

Joe Parsons recalls the effort taken by everyone that sad day.

“I am a newly converted, avid fell runner and on Saturday June 1, I, along with around 200 other runners was lining up on the start line of the famous Penyghent mountain race. Everything changed with a phone call just before we were due to run: “Hello Joe, there is a situation unfolding underground. We need your help.”

"One of my other pastimes, is the exploration and digging of new caves.

"That isn't that I 'manufacture' a new cave from the limestone bedrock of the Yorkshire Dales, it is more a case of digging out rocks and mud that have blocked the way forwards. Most of this mud and rock was forced into the cave entrances by the last ice age. The caves themselves are ancient, getting access to them is the new part.

"At around lunchtime on that Saturday, a party of three very experienced cave explorers were returning to a system they had discovered underneath Fountains Fell, to undertake some work. Curtain Pot, from what I saw of it in the ensuing hours, is a fine discovery. A mixture of vertical and horizontal cave passages, requiring rope access techniques to be used, along with the more stereotypical wriggling and crawling. Halfway to their intended destination, one of the party had an accident.

"The message that the members of the UWFRA cave rescue section received called for engineering works’. That in layman's terms is the widening and shoring of the rock that forms the cave passages underground, to allow easy egress for a casualty on a stretcher. Being a newly discovered cave, much of the crawling passage was simply too small to allow the rescue party to transport the injured man to the surface. Three engineering teams, consisting of parties of two experienced cave diggers went underground to begin the long and arduous job of making some space. We have many techniques for moving rock, but for the sake of a brief explanation, imagine hammers, chisels, battery powered construction equipment, noise, dust and trapped fingers. My digging partner for the rescue mission was Dave, a good friend, and an experienced caver. We worked on one of the tightest sections of the narrow cave passage for almost 12 hours. Drilling close to 100 holes in solid limestone with our battery drill and using specialist equipment to shatter the rock into smaller pieces, the progress was slow. Throughout the whole mission, other team members had to pass by us in the narrow space, carrying vital medical supplies to our casualty and food and drinks for the rescuers. Each time they passed, we would lie flat on the floor, and they would have to crawl over the top of us. Not a very comfortable experience when repeated upwards of 50 times, but it was effective. Under no circumstances could the supplies being requested by the underground doctor be delayed.

"At about 1am, Dave and I were delivered something that possibly once resembled a ham sandwich, squashed into an unrecognisable state by its journey down the cave. It was the first break that we had, since setting off underground some eight or so hours earlier. Our progress was slow, but there were definitely improvements in the shape and size of this especially narrow section.

"I can’t tell you what time it was when we heard the news. Sadly, our casualty had succumbed to his injuries. Its a bitter cruel blow to take, and the wind in your sails gets robbed from you. Still, we had a job to do. The casualty was packaged in one of the specially designed underground stretchers, and his journey to the surface had begun. The casualty was packaged in one of the specially designed underground stretchers, and his journey to the surface had begun.

"We kept working, making more space, right up to the point that the stretcher arrived with us. Equipment was hastily packed away and sent to the surface. Our strength and determination was put to work carrying, hauling, dragging, lifting and manoeuvring the stretcher. In this phase of the rescue, I witnessed some super human efforts and displays of strength and devotion. The whole team was united in sadness, and also in determination.

"In some cases, inches of progress were met with the jubilation normally reserved for miles.Lifting twelve inches felt like a mile.

"At around 4.45am, we were ready to ascend the final 18 feet of the cave. A small hazy blue triangle of light could be seen above us, a new day had broken on the surface, but it didn't really mean anything.

"Ropes were rigged, a hauling party in place. The ascent was slow and controlled, and with one last push, the stretcher together with its occupant were reunited with the outside world. Underground, for us, there was no cheering, no slapping of backs. Just the gentle reassurances offered to the final members of the team who climbed out of the darkness below.

"When I reached the surface at just after 5.30am, a quick cup of lukewarm tea and a biscuit were thrust into my hand before the long walk back to the farm, where vehicles had been left the previous day. Back at our Grassington base, a small team of sleep-deprived rescuers began the task of washing ropes, cleaning vehicles and making equipment good for service again. The next callout could come at any time. Then it was off home for breakfast, and a day at work."