incident at Crump Spring Cave

ACA 1973 page 4
18th Feb 1973
Crump Spring Cave
Incident type
Difficulty on rope
Primary cause
Fell from cable ladder
Secondary cause
No belay
Group type
Group size
Aid type
Underground aid
Incident flags
Data status

Injured cavers

Name Age Sex Injuries Injured areas
Welker, Douglas B. 26 Male Bruise Wrist, hip, knee, jaw

Incident report

Two carloads of cavers entered Crump Spring Cave around 8:00 a.m. Saturday. A party of two consisting of Douglas B. Welker (26) and Thomas W. Ramsey reached the rear of the cave in 4 or 5 hours and then mapped for several more hours. Due to fatigue, the return trip took over 8 hours. Although experienced, this was Welker's first cave trip in over a year. Carbide lamp problems and a torn cave pack slowed down the trip further.

Close to the entrance was a near-vertical, 20-foot pitch with a cable ladder and a belay rope still in place. Both cavers were using flashlights because of carbide lamp problems. Ramsey was very chilled due to water crawls they had gone through and suggested that they dispense with a belay on the ladder climb in order to save time. Welker started climbing but backed down and rested while Ramsey climbed the ladder. On Welker's next try, the strength of his arm gave out and he fell backwards, landing near the base of the ladder. Most of the force of the fall was absorbed by his left wrist, left hip. left knee and jaw. The accident occurred at about 7:00 a.m. Sunday.

Welker told Ramsey that he could not move but later did not remember talking to Ramsey. Ramsey then left the cave and got help. Welker was out of the cave within a half hour after his fall.

"(1) What was done (or went) wrong:
(a) Too strenuous a trip for my physical condition;
(b) Inadequate equipment (caving pack which disintegrated);
(c) Carbide lamp problems;
(d) Attempting to climb ladder using a flashlight, instead of taking the time to fix the carbide lamps, in spite of our proximity to the entrance.
(e) Failure to observe the standard safety practice of belaying on a ladder climb regardless of the circumstances;
(1) Tom should not have suggested that we forego the belay.
(2) I should have insisted on the belay.
(f) Problems with hung-up ladder rung, etc.
(2) Rescue operation:
(a) Tom probably acted wisely in getting other cavers to help, because of his condition and their proximity;
(b) Bringing gorp into the cave was a good idea, as it provided me with quick energy;
(c) Warming the car was a good idea;
(d) Bringing the sleeping bag into the cave was also a good idea, as they were unsure of my condition when they entered the cave and the possibility existed that I might not be able to make it up the ladder and out of the cave for quite a long period of time.
(3) Regardless of the things that went wrong, if a belay had been used on the climb there would have been no accident." (Welker)

It is likely that this accident was caused by the effects of hypothermia (exposure). One of the first effects of hypothermia is lack of coordination and good judgement.


Douglas B. Welker

This record was last updated on 18th Nov 2023 at 00:30 UTC.