The Fell Rescue Column with David Dennis

The dramatic and tragic rescue operation at Mossdale Caverns 50 years ago.
The dramatic and tragic rescue operation at Mossdale Caverns 50 years ago.

Last month was the 50th anniversary of the Mossdale Caverns caving tragedy – the worst caving incident in British caving history when six young cavers drowned when the passages they were in became engulfed by flood water.

We conducted the rescue attempt which lasted some four days and involved more than 300 people – including adjacent rescue teams, caving club members, the emergency authorities and many local people – the biggest rescue attempt ever mounted in this country.

Mossdale Caverns, high up on Grassington Moor are graded ‘super severe’ and are prone to serious flooding, although on this fateful trip there were no indications of likely flooding and the quantity of water entering the cave was well below normal and the weather forecast was for bright periods with just a chance of thundery showers.

Such was the enormity of the rescue situation at one point the cave entrance was under four feet of water.

Frantic efforts were made to try divert the water, building dams, trenches, many using their bare hands. It was 12 hours before rescuers could get underground.

The risk to our cavers was very high and at times we had to bring them out. Rescuers had to work in chest high water.

Sadly, after many hours of frantic digging, the dreadful reality came when the team found all six men had perished.

Their bodies were not recovered and the coroner at the subsequent inquest made the decision that they should remain in the cave and the entrance be sealed as a grave.

No criticism was made of the young men’s decision to venture deep into the system.

Three years later, caving friends of the victims got into the cave and moved their remains to a higher level which was then named The Sanctuary.

Several members who took part in the attempted rescue are still in the team, including one who had the enormous responsibilty of being team leader at the tragedy.

A memorial service took place at Conistone Church.

This was attended by local people as well as UWFRA and caving clubs members ,many having taken part in the attempted rescue.

Family and friends included Rachel Taylor, the daughter of one of the victims.

Rachel, from Bradford, was only two years old when her father died.

As she grew up she became a great friend and fundraiser for the team.

It was a deeply moving moment when she read out a poem she had written in his memory.

A plaque naming the victims marks the place where British caving darkest day took place.