15th European Cave Rescue Meeting, Rudice, Moravian Karst, Czech Republic

The 15th European Cave Rescue Meeting (29th September – 2nd October) took place in the beautiful and ancient village Rudice, Moravian Karst, Czech Republic. Rudice is about 20 km north-east of Brno in the central part of Moravian Karst at an altitude of 490 to 530 m. The village has a long-standing iron and mining tradition, the origin of which dates to 1247. One of the popular tourist attractions is a windmill from the 19th century, which was operated till 1945. Nowadays It houses a museum of the history of the village, mining and metallurgy, and a permanent exhibition of speleology and mineralogy. Without doubt the Moravian Karst is one of the natural wonders of the Czech Republic, full of spectacular caves and gorges. 

ECRA Rudice

The meeting was organized by the Cave Rescue Service of the Czech Speleological Society on behalf of the European Cave Rescue Association and under the auspices of the General Directorate of Fire Rescue Service of the Czech Republic, Governor of the South Moravian Region, Union Internationale de Spéléologie. Actually it was the biggest ECRA event with 138 participants from 20 countries and about 39 organizations (caving clubs as well as all ECRA meetings are open not only for cave rescuers). 

As part of the meeting, a preliminary program was prepared from our hosts for September 28th and 29th, which includes not only caving activities but visiting of some remarkable show caves in the area. One of the sporty tours was in Stará Amatérská Cave – part of the Amatérská cave (Amateurs’ Cave) system, the longest one in Czech Republic with 44 km length with underground rivers and full of fascinating white formations. The cave was discovered on 18 January 1969 by the Plánivská speleological group. In August 1970, during heavy flood, the cavers Milan Šlechta and Marko Zahradníček died tragically. Stará Amatérská Cave is also famous for archaeological discoveries. The other sporty tour was scheduled for 29 September in Rudické propadání Cave, with two options – visit of dry parts of the cave and underground canyon. Its entrance is next to Rudice and its corridors progress directly under the village. One of the entrances is a ponor (stream sink) where the river Jedovnický potok disappears and goes down in cascades into a depth of -86 m. This cannoning-like entry was followed by one team. The second entrance is a little higher and leads through a dry shaft system with several ladders. Reaching the bottom of the shafts the streambed can be followed for quite a while. Also this cave is full of amazing dripstone formations.

Other tours included show caves Výpustek and Punkva Caves plus Macocha Abyss. The Výpustek Cave is a unique underground system created many centuries ago. During the Second World War it was used as a German arms factory, and then as a secret underground headquarter. In 1961 the Czechoslovak People’s Army built the headquarters inside the cave (about 200 meters long), as a separate facility, in case of war. Punkva Caves are part of the largest cave system in the Czech Republic – Amateurs’ Cave. The cave is richly decorated with marvelous formations. The trip also included the boat ride from the bottom of spectacular Macocha Abyss (about 138 m).

15th ECRA Meeting 

Friday, 30 October was the first official day of the 15th European Cave Rescue Meeting. The venue was House of Culture in Rudice, with a meeting office, 3 meeting rooms, a restaurant and Speleo bar. Accommodation for the participants was provided on a small caravan park, an area for own tents and a camp equipped with large tents, provided by the local fire brigade.

The meeting was opened with an official ceremony with speeches by Jan Sirotek (Deputy president of the CSS), Roman Šebela (Village major Rudice & Head of the CRS CSS), Zdeněk Motyčka (Vice president of UIS), colonel Jiří Pelikán (Regional Director of the Fire Brigade), Vlastimil Jeřábek (Voluntary Fire Brigade Rudice) and Dinko Novosel (President of ECRA). Other official guests included: Ivo Stejskal (Representative of the city of Blansko), colonel Mojmír Richtr (Deputy Regional Director of the Fire Brigade), Antonín Tůma (CHKO Moravský kras – protected landscape area Moravian Karst).

The program continues with presentations, demonstrations, meetings and discussions of the ECRA commissions.

Several lectures were devoted to the topic of bad (noxious) air in the context of underground blasting, from a chemical and medical perspective. One of them was “Artificially produced gasses in caves” by Werner Janz, and the other one “Gas monitoring and underground blasting”, from Brendan Sloan – BCRC Medical Officer.

Under the Your Contribution part, there were presentations by participants about: 

  • Cave rescue in salt caves, the special rigging and techniques used, which is something unusual for the European cave rescuers and activities of Cave Rescue Israel (Yoav Negev, Israel); 
  • Cooperation between Czech Cave Rescue and Fire Brigade Service (Libor Matuška, Jaroslav Weiter, Czech Republic); 
  • Incident with three Polish explorers, trapped in Lamprechtsofen (Kurt Dennstedt, Austria); 
  • The rescue of the cave diving accident in Kossuth Cave near Jósvafő, which was the longest rescue operation in the history of the Hungarian Cave Rescue Service (Gergely Balazs, Miklos Nyerges, Hungary); 
  • Inspirational presentation for the young people of the Rescue & Safety school on a cave exercise (Marek Vocac, Norway). 

Actually cave rescue techniques and services which initially are for cavers, fallen into extreme situations, also work well in animal rescue. This was proved and shown by presentations “A dog rescue mission” (Jessica van Ord, USA) and “Rescue of a beaver” (Dinko Novosel, Croatia). 

ECRA has four commissions established: medical, cave rescue diving, technical and passage enlargement and one working group – web and visibility. During ECRA meetings those commissions come together to exchange, discuss, train or work on particular projects. In the passage enlargement commission there were lectures about pyrotechnic material like pyro cartridges as well as a practical demonstration outdoor. The technical commission exchanged about different equipment like radio location, cave GPS, radiophone and Nicola IV and then did a practical demonstration outdoor with techniques for stretcher maneuvers with few people and less equipment. The medical commission did demonstrations of new technical equipment (e.g. mobile ultrasound device) and gear (e.g. patient’s sleeping bag) with practical training sessions and had some presentations about recent cave rescue operations in Switzerland and UK. The cave diving commission did workshop and practical exercise: pulling a stretcher with a scooter, waterproof drills (how to protect the drill under the water during diving), full face masks, various stretchers in siphon transportation. The web and visibility group discussed parts of the new website, suggestions for restricted password protected areas in the site, cloud system and useful way to be used and popularization of ECRA through social media.  

On Friday evening there was a screening of the movie Thirteen Lives (director Ron Howard) about the Thai cave diving operation in Tham Luang cave in 2018, with official permission of Amazon, thanks to John Volanthen, one of the British cave rescue divers. 

General assembly

The annual ECRA GA took place on Saturday morning and was led by Dinko Novosel, President of ECRA. The reports of ECRA Board, financial report and reports of auditors were presented. Afterwards, the heads of the ECRA commissions and work group reported on the activities of the past year. All reports were voted and accepted by the members. 

Under the technical commission a new working group was created that will deal with Communications with the first aim of cataloging the available devices for use in rescues.

New membership application was received from the Spanish Speleology and Canyons Confederation (CEC). During the assembly, Fernando Caro, manager of the Cave Rescue Committee of the Spanish Speleology and Canyons Confederation (CEC) presented the organization and their activities. And then CEC was unanimously accepted as an ECRA member. Congratulations!

ECRA grows and already has 33 members from 25 countries. 

After the general assembly the workshops and demonstrations continued, followed by a role game, where members of the different commissions worked together. Participants of the meeting were invited to see new facilities of the local fire brigade, which works closely with the cave rescue team and has room for the cave rescue equipment and even a new 4×4 car specially equipped in addition to fire fighting with needed equipment for cave rescue.  

The evening program started with keynote speeches on the occasion of the two anniversaries. “THE ECRA – 10 years of progress” by  Pete Allwright, Honorable Member of ECRA, was dedicated to the ECRA anniversary. Twelfth of May 2012 is the date of the founding general assembly of ECRA, which was held in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, Toskany, Italy. Then our hosts, Cave Rescue Service of Czech Speleological Society, presented 40 years of Cave Rescue in the Czech Republic.

A folk dance performance by the youth group of our hosts was the atmospheric prelude to the traditional closing party. The meeting finished traditionally with a great party.

The next meeting in 2023 will be held in Porto de Mos, Portugal from October 12-15, 2023. The meeting will be organized by the Portuguese Caving Federation on behalf of ECRA.

Many thanks for the excellent organization and atmosphere to the whole team of Cave Rescue Service of the Czech Speleological Society.