List of UK caving fatalities

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This is a list of recreational caving fatalities in the United Kingdom. It includes all verified deaths associated with the exploration of natural caves and disused mines in the modern era (post 1880). Deaths involving members of the general public who may have slipped down a shaft, or wandered into a cave without being aware of the risks, have been excluded. Caving cannot be considered a particularly dangerous pastime - in 2018, there were up to 4,000 regular cavers in the UK and about 70,000 people who went on instructor-led courses into caves in the Yorkshire Dales, but there were no fatalities.[1]

List of fatalities[edit]

Porth yr Ogof - the scene of 11 fatalities

There have been 136 fatalities associated with recreational caving in the UK. The main causes of death have been drowning when cave diving, drowning as the result of flooding or negotiating deep water, injuries incurred from falling from a height, and injuries incurred as the result of rock falls. In ten cases the bodies have not been recovered.

The worst incident in UK caving history was the Mossdale Caverns incident in 1967 when six cavers were drowned following an unexpected cloud burst.[2] There have been three incidents when three people have died. The first was when three cavers drowned in Langstroth Pot in 1976 when free-diving short sections of underwater passage as the result of the air in an air bell becoming foul.[3] Three cavers were killed by a rock fall in Ease Gill Caverns in 1988,[4] and three cavers were drowned in the Marble Arch system in 1995.[5]

Porth yr Ogof, in South Wales, accounts for eleven fatalities, nine of which were the result of people drowning when negotiating the exit pool.[6] Ease Gill Caverns and its associated entrances accounts for ten deaths; Alum Pot and its associated entrances account for six, as does Mossdale Caverns (all from the 1967 incident).

The only case of a caver dying in the UK as the result of becoming stuck was Neil Moss in Peak Cavern in 1959. The cause of death was foul air building up around him.[7]

Date Cave Area Cause Name Notes
Sept 1909 Square Shaft, Alderley Edge Peak District Fall Alexander Rea 17-year-old boy on school outing[8][9]
May 1929 West Mine, Alderley Edge Peak District Hypothermia George Etchells
Alfred Hadfield
Bodies found 7 September 1929[10][11]
July 1936 Alum Pot Yorkshire Dales   Rock fall Mabel Binks Possibly hit by a rock deliberately thrown down the shaft[12][13]
May 1939 Rowten Pot Yorkshire Dales Drowned John Lambert Fell and subsequently drowned[14][15]
March 1946 West Mine, Alderley Edge Peak District Fall Arthur Murray [16]
Dec 1946 Grange Rigg Pot Yorkshire Dales Hypothermia Harold Sargeant Died following a fall[17][18]
May 1948 West Mine, Alderley Edge Peak District Fall Leslie Hunt 13-year-old schoolboy[19]
Apr 1949 Wookey Hole Mendip Diving Gordon Marriott [20]
May 1951 Penyghent Pot Yorkshire Dales Hypothermia John Williams [21]
Oct 1954 West Mine, Alderley Edge Peak District Fall Kenneth John Booth 16-year-old schoolboy[22]
May 1955 Alum Pot Yorkshire Dales Fall John Edgar Fisher Fell from near top of Dolly Tubs pitch when unlifelined[23][24]
Jun 1957 Porth yr Ogof South Wales Drowned Leonard Garraway [25][26]
Jan 1958 Goyden Pot Yorkshire Dales Drowned Brian Kerr Body not recovered[27][28]
Jan 1959 Swildon's Hole Mendip Hypothermia John Wallington [29][30]
Mar 1959 Peak Cavern Peak District CO2 poisoning Neil Moss Result of being trapped in confined space. Body interred in situ[31]
July 1959 Dow Cave Yorkshire Dales Rock fall David Priestman [32]
Dec 1959 Bar Pot Yorkshire Dales Fall Eric Sugden [33][34]
Dec 1960 Eastwater Cavern Mendip Rock fall Alan Hartnell [35][36]
Jun 1961 Coed-y-Mwstwr Woods Cave South Wales Rock fall Tony Lewis [37]
Sep 1961 Ball Eye Mine Peak District Fall George Keeling [38][39]
Jan 1962 Hell Hole Yorkshire Dales Drowned Eban Beeves [40][41]
Oct 1962 Alum Pot Yorkshire Dales Fall John Hopley [42][43]
Mar 1963 Deep Ecton Mine Peak District Diving Garry McElliott Diving with British Sub-Aqua Club - not a cave diver[44]
Mar 1963 Longwood Swallet Mendip Hypothermia Heather Muirhead [45][46]
May 1963 Mandale Mine Peak District Drowned Roger Low Drowned after falling down flooded surface shaft[47][48]
Nov 1963 Marble Steps Pot Yorkshire Dales Drowned Mike McShea [49]
Mar 1964 Lancaster Hole Yorkshire Dales Diving Alan Clegg [50]
Jun 1966 Porth yr Ogof South Wales Drowned Richard Speakman [51]
Jan 1967 Alum Pot Yorkshire Dales Fall James Drummond Schoolboy under supervision[52][53]
Feb 1967 Carlswark Cavern Peak District Drowned Robert MacDonald 14-year-old schoolboy under supervision[54][55]
Mar 1967 Easter Iron Mine Forest of Dean Fall Rex Keene Hemp rope broke when abseiling 90 metre shaft[56][57]
Jun 1967 Mossdale Caverns Yorkshire Dales Drowned Dave Adamson
Geoffrey Boireau
William Frakes
John Ogden
Michael Ryan
Colin Vickers
The bodies were later interred in the far reaches of cave[2][58]
Oct 1967 Sunset Hole Yorkshire Dales Fall Eric Luckhurst Rescue formed basis of Sid Perou's film "Sunday at Sunset Pot"[59]
Aug 1968 Porth yr Ogof South Wales Drowned Anthony Stannard [60]
Mar 1969 Meregill Hole Yorkshire Dales Hypothermia Christopher Hay [61][62]
Aug 1969 Ease Gill Caverns Yorkshire Dales Rock fall Duncan Glasford [63][64]
Sep 1970 Pollanaffrin Northern Ireland Natural causes Mick Mulligan [65]
Oct 1970 Keld Head Yorkshire Dales Diving Alan Erith Remains retrieved 5 years later[66][52]
Oct 1970 Porth yr Ogof South Wales Drowned Stephen Sedgewick [6][67]
Feb 1971 Porth yr Ogof South Wales Drowned Paul Esser Remains retrieved in 2010[68]
May 1971 Weathercote Cave Yorkshire Dales Rock fall John Fellows [69][70]
Sep 1971 Swinsto Hole Yorkshire Dales Fall Michael Midgley [52]
Aug 1972 Firehose Cave Scotland Drowned Peter Clements [71]
Mar 1973 Knotlow Mine Peak District Drowned Alan Evans [72]
May 1973 Wood Mine, Alderley Edge Peak District Drowned Paul Shaw 14-year-old boy on an outdoors pursuits course[73]
July 1973 Porth yr Ogof South Wales Drowned Graham Alston Trainee soldier on exercise[6][74]
Sep 1973 Eldon Hole Peak District Fall Sulo Sulonen [75]
Apr 1974 Holme Hill Cave Yorkshire Dales Fall Peter Trousdale [76]
Jun 1974 Ogof Agen Allwedd South Wales Diving Roger Solari Body not recovered[77][78]
July 1974 Merlin's Cave Peak District Diving John Smith [79]
Dec 1974 Gaping Gill Yorkshire Dales Fall David Huxtable Considered to be the UK's first SRT fatality[80]
Sep 1975 Ireby Fell Cavern Yorkshire Dales Fall Stephen Hughes [81]
Feb 1976 Oxlow Cavern Peak District Fall Stephen Nunwick [82]
May 1976 Langstroth Pot Yorkshire Dales Drowned Martin Blackburn
Brian Fox
Donald Southern
Encountered foul air whilst free-diving[3]
Aug 1976 Royal Hopping Mine Peak District Rock fall Leslie Wheeler [83]
May 1977 Blayshaw Gill Pot Yorkshire Dales Rock fall John Rhodes [84]
Sep 1977 Ilam Rising Peak District Diving Mike Nelson [85][86]
April 1978 Wheal Edward Mine Cornwall Fall Stella Bourke [87]
Oct 1979 Cote Gill Pot Yorkshire Dales CO poisoning Richard Marvel
John Staniforth
Result of using high explosives[88]
Dec 1979 Ogof Ffynnon Ddu South Wales Drowned J. Fitton
D.Gough
Washed away[89]
Mar 1980 Bull Pot of the Witches Yorkshire Dales Diving Ian Plant [90][91]
Aug 1980 GB Cave Mendip Natural causes Ian Roberts-Miller [92][93]
Oct 1980 Top Sink Yorkshire Dales Fall Tracy Gibson [94]
Nov 1980 Keld Head Yorkshire Dales Diving Mark Woodhouse [95][91]
Feb 1981 Pollnacrom Northern Ireland Diving David Woods Body not recovered[96]
July 1981 Porth yr Ogof South Wales Drowned Adrian Luck [97][98]
Nov 1981 Wookey Hole Mendip Diving Keith Potter [99][91]
May 1982 Gaping Gill Yorkshire Dales Fall Edward Holstead [100]
May 1982 Diccan Pot Yorkshire Dales Natural causes Anthony Mosedale [100]
Jun 1982 Sunset Pot Yorkshire Dales Drowned Neofitos Savva [100]
Aug 1982 Ireby Fell Cavern Yorkshire Dales Fall John Martin [101]
Nov 1982 Gaping Gill Yorkshire Dales Fall Robert Watson [101]
Sep 1983 Smallcleugh Mine Cumbria Fall David Colin Brooks 17-year-old boy scout fell 18 metres[102][103]
Jan 1985 Hurtle Pot Yorkshire Dales Diving Derek Crossland [104][91]
Feb 1985 Bagshawe Cavern Peak District Drowned Mark Dowsett 15-year-old schoolboy on school trip[76][105]
Nov 1985 Lancaster Hole Yorkshire Dales Drowned David James [106]
Jan 1986 Longwood Swallet Mendip Rock fall Atilla Kurucz [107][108]
Mar 1986 Rowten Pot Yorkshire Dales Drowned David Anderson Cave Rescue Organisation team member on rescue[109]
May 1986 Dale Head Pot Yorkshire Dales Drowned James Taylor [110]
July 1986 Porth yr Ogof South Wales Natural causes Gwynfor Hughes [6]
Apr 1988 unnamed cave Yorkshire Dales Diving Nick Whaite [111][91]
May 1988 Ease Gill Caverns Yorkshire Dales Rock fall Janet Barnfield
Michael Preece
David Simpson
[4]
Aug 1988 Uamh Claig-ionn Scotland Hypothermia Charles Butterworth [112]
Feb 1989 Jib Tunnel Yorkshire Dales Hypothermia Keith Mann [113]
May 1989 Ivy Green Cave Peak District Hypothermia Michael Boulton Body found a year later 100 metres (330 ft) in, with no lighting[114]
Feb 1990 Kingsdale Master Cave Yorkshire Dales Drowned Phil Tamms [115]
Jul 1990 Glynneath Silica Mine South Wales Natural causes Neville Groom On management training course[116]
July 1991 Jacob's Mine Peak District Rock fall Stephen Goodwin [117]
Nov 1991 Sell Gill Holes Yorkshire Dales Natural causes Francis Hardy [117]
Jun 1992 Porth yr Ogof South Wales Drowned Amanda Stead [118]
Jun 1992 Joint Hole Yorkshire Dales Drowned Martin McMahon [119][91]
Oct 1992 Porth yr Ogof South Wales Drowned Graham Lipp Died after rescuing boy[120][121]
Jan 1993 Kingsdale Master Cave Yorkshire Dales Drowned Michael Jones Washed into Kingsdale Master Cave sump[122]
Feb 1994 Lost Johns' Cave Yorkshire Dales Rock fall Paul Lyons [123]
July 1994 Dismal Hill Cave Yorkshire Dales Diving Trevor Kemp [124][91]
Oct 1994 Old Ing Cave Yorkshire Dales Drowned Peter Ball [125]
Nov 1994 Whittington Stone Mine Cotswolds Natural causes Bob Fairclough [126]
Jan 1995 Marble Arch Caves Northern Ireland Drowned Con Cormican
Brian Kennedy
Philip Marshall
[5]
May 1995 Calf Holes Yorkshire Dales Natural causes Thomas Denny Management training exercise[127]
Aug 1996 Quaking Pot Yorkshire Dales Fall Christine Bleakley [128]
May 1997 Lancaster Hole Yorkshire Dales Fall Michael Jeffries [129]
Dec 1998 Ogof Pont Yr Meirw South Wales Diving Peter Fowler [130]</ref>[91]
Nov 2000 Lancaster Hole Yorkshire Dales Drowned Howard Rothwell [131]
Feb 2001 Ireby Fell Cavern Yorkshire Dales Drowned Julian Carrol
Ray Lea
[132]
July 2002 Porth yr Ogof South Wales Drowned Kevin Sharman [133]
Sep 2004 Notts Pot Yorkshire Dales Fall Paula Szajnowska [134]
Mar 2005 Low Birkwith Cave Yorkshire Dales Diving Colin Pryer [135][91]
Nov 2005 Manchester Hole Yorkshire Dales Hypothermia Joseph Lister Schoolboy under supervision[136]
Mar 2006 Upper Flood Swallet Mendip Natural causes Malcolm Cotter [137]
Mar 2006 Astonhill Swallet Peak District Rock fall David Briggs [137][138]
Aug 2006 Meregill Skit Yorkshire Dales Natural causes Mike Wooding Died of natural causes whilst diving[139]
Dec 2007 Giant's Hole Peak District Hypothermia Paul Fowkes [140][141]
Dec 2007 Lower Long Churn Yorkshire Dales Drowned Caroline Fletcher
Stuart Goodwill
[142][143]
July 2008 Coal mine at Craigmillar Scotland Asphyxiation Peter Ireson Abseiled into foul air in disused coal mine[144][145]
Apr 2011 Pwll-y-Cym South Wales Diving Bonnie Cotier [146][147]
Aug 2014 Aber Las Mine North Wales Asphyxiation Will Smith Overcome by foul air in disused slate mine[148][149][150]
Feb 2015 Bull Pot, Kingsdale Yorkshire Dales Rock fall Gordon Aitken [151][152]
Aug 2017 Ewes Top Moss Pot, Scales Moor Yorkshire Dales Natural causes Michael Wood Date uncertain - body not found for several weeks[153][154]
Jun 2019 Curtain Pot, Fountains Fell Yorkshire Dales Fall Harry Hesketh [155][156]
Jan 2020 Lancaster Hole Yorkshire Dales Diving Simon Halliday [157]

Breakdown of fatalities by cause and area[edit]

The following table summarises the major causes of fatality in UK caving by cause and by area. The commonest cause of fatality in the UK is drowning - accounting for almost half the deaths when cave diving is included, and 40% when diving is excluded. The second major cause of fatality, when cave diving is excluded, is falling from height which accounts for 23% of fatalities, followed by rock fall which accounts for 14% of fatalities. The 'Other' category includes gas poisoning and asphyxiation.

Area Diving Drowned Fall Rock fall Hypothermia Natural causes Other Total
Mendip 2 0 0 2 2 2 0 8
Northern Ireland   1 3 0 0 0 1 0 5
Peak District 3 5 7 3 4 0 1 23
South Wales 3 12 0 1 0 2 0 18
Yorkshire Dales   9 26 17 10 5 5 2 74
Other 0 1 3 0 1 1 2 8
Total 18 47 27 16 12 11 5 136

Breakdown of fatalities by cause and decade[edit]

The following table summarises the major causes of fatality in UK caving by decade. The changes from decade to decade partly reflect the different numbers of active cavers, partly changing techniques, and partly improved equipment.[158]

Decade Diving Drowned Fall Rock fall Hypothermia Natural causes Other Total
1900s 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
1910s 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1920s 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 2
1930s 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 2
1940s 1 0 2 0 1 0 0 4
1950s 0 2 3 1 2 0 1 9
1960s 2 12 5 3 2 0 0 24
1970s 4 11 8 2 0 1 2 28
1980s 6 6 5 4 3 3 0 27
1990s 2 9 2 2 0 4 0 19
2000s 1 6 1 1 2 2 1 14
2010s 1 0 1 1 0 1 1 5
2020s 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Total 18 47 28 15 12 11 5 136

Breakdown of fatalities over time[edit]

The following bar chart shows the number of fatalities in each decade.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

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  4. ^ a b Boothroyd, Colin (June–July 1988). "Easegill Tragedy". Descent (82): 12.
  5. ^ a b Kelly, John (April–May 1995). "Marble Arch fatalities". Descent (123): 18.
  6. ^ a b c d Mark, Wilton-Jones. "Porth Yr Ogof". UK Caves database. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
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  11. ^ "Mummified Bodies. Danger of Old Mines". The Scotsman. 11 September 1929.
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  14. ^ Eyre (1988), pp. 32–36.
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  17. ^ "10-foot fall in pothole: Soldier killed on Ingleborough". Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. 10 December 1946.
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