11th European Cave Rescues Meeting, 2017, Sofia, Bulgaria

Participants of the 11th European Cave Recue Meeting
Photo: Elizaveta Rovkah

The Eleventh European Cave Rescue Meeting took place at the National Training Centre of the Bulgarian Red Cross, Dolni Lozen, Sofia from 5th to 8th of October. The event was organized by the European Cave Rescue Association, hosted by Cave Rescue – Bulgaria.

Full report about 11th Eleventh European Cave Rescue Meeting in pdf format

There were participants from cave rescue organizations from Austria, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, Serbia, Turkey, Hungary, Croatia and Switzerland. Total number of participants – 41 from abroad and 21 from Bulgaria.

The European Cave Rescue Meeting Opening Ceremony was introduced by Antoniya Vlaykova, president of the European Cave Rescue Commission of the European Speleological Federation. Vladimir Georgiev reported on the result from the international training, which took place several days prior to the meeting, at the caves “Balabanova dupka” and “Granicharskata”. On behalf of the Cave Rescue Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Federation of Speleology, associate professor Dr. Yavor Shopov, chairman of the Bulgarian Federation of Speleology, gave honorary diplomas to the leader and the cave divers who participated in one of the hardest rescue operations in the country in 2016 in the “Golemia Izvor” cave, near the village of Kipilovo.

Kostadin Chifligarov, representative of the Chief Directorate Fire Safety and Civil Protection presented the congratulatory address for Cave Rescue – Bulgaria.
Photo: Elizaveta Rovkah

A congratulatory address for Cave Rescue – Bulgaria was presented by Kostadin Chifligarov, representative of the Chief Directorate Fire Safety and Civil Protection – Bulgaria. The participants of the meeting were also greeted by Eng. Ivan Vidolovski – chairman of the National Volunteers Association – Bulgaria, and Emil Neshev – Director of the Bulgarian Mountain Rescue Service of the Bulgarian Red Cross.

Dinko Novosel – Croatia, President of the European Cave Rescue Association, presented the ideas and the goals behind the European Cave Rescue Association.

Discussion “Improvement of existing collaboration in operation level between cave rescue organizations and authorities”

The program continued with a discussion on topic “Improvement of existing collaboration in operation level between cave rescue organizations and authorities”.

The session was attended by the Board of the European Cave Rescue Association, President of the Cave Rescue Commission of FSE, representatives of the Cave Rescue Commission of the International Union of Speleology, leaders of cave rescue organizations from Europe, representatives of the Chief Directorate Fire Safety and Civil Protection – Bulgaria, The National Volunteers Association – Bulgaria, and the Mountain Rescue Service of the Bulgarian Red Cross.

Discussion “Improvement of existing collaboration in operation level between cave rescue organizations and authorities”.
Photo: Elizaveta Rovkah

The activities of the various cave rescue organizations from Europe were presented as well as their experience in cooperation with the local authorities.

Such a discussion takes place for the first time in Bulgaria. We hope that it will act as a base for future debates, which will clarify the status of the volunteer – cave rescuer.

Participants in the discussion “Improvement of existing collaboration in operation level between cave rescue organizations and authorities”.
Photo: Elizaveta Rovkah

Presentations, lectures and practical exercises

The meeting continued with presentations, lectures, debates and practical exercises, concerning the different aspects of cave rescue.


One of the most attractive and useful sessions was the demonstration of single rope rescue, using improvised methods, which is a life-saving technique that must be mastered by all cavers. Participants from Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland and Hungary demonstrated several rescue methods using a minimum set of equipment.

Photo: Elizaveta Rovkah

Technical testing of equipment and maneuvers

The next main aspect of the meeting was equipment testing and techniques used in cave rescue. A number of experiments were conducted where using a measuring device (a dynamometer) the rope and the anchor loads were checked during pulling a stretcher with a victim inside, so the safety of the victim and the rescuers can be guaranteed. The breaking points of different anchors and ropes used in building systems for cave entering and rescue were also tested.


Other sessions included in the programme of the 11th Cave Rescue Meeting:

General Assembly

A General Assembly of ECRA was held on Friday 6th of October. During the assembly, new commissions were proposed: technical and cave-diving. There is a Medical Commission officially announced in 2016 from the meeting in Split with Chairman Lana Donlagic (Croatia). The chairpersons of the commissions were elected: Gusepe Conti (Italy), chairman of the technical commission and Robert Anžič (Slovenia), chairman of the cave diving commission. The Board of ECRA informed about four new membership requests:

  • Speleo-Secours Switzerland;
  • GRJ (Cave Rescue Group) – Poland;
  • Cave Rescue Commission – Turkey;
  • Federação Portuguesa de Espeleologia.

The General Assembly approved all of the requests.

At the moment the total number of ECRA member organizations is 19.

British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC)
Corpo Nazionale Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico – CNSAS
Corpul Român Salvaspeo – CORSA
Gorska Služba Spašavanja Crne Gore
Höhlenrettungsverbund Deutschland (HRVD)
Gorska Služba Spasavanja Srbije – GSS RS
Hoehlenrettung Baden-Württemberg e.V.
Verein für Höhlenkunde in München
Hrvatska Gorska Služba Spašavanja – HGSS
Jamarska Reševalna Služba Slovenije – JRS
Magyar Barlangi Mentőszolgálat
Österreichische Höhlenrettung (ÖHR) / Austrian Cave Rescue Association
Пещерно спасяване / Cave Rescue Bulgaria
Savez Gorskih Službi Spašavanja u BiH – GSSUBIH
Speleo-Secours Switzerland
GRJ (Cave Rescue Group) – Poland
Cave Rescue Commission – Turkey
Federação Portuguesa de Espeleologia

Picture slideshows and movies were presented in the evenings. For the first time was presented the Italian movie about the extremely hard cave rescue action in the Riesending cave in 2014, where more than 200 rescuers participated from Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Croatia. In addition, the movie created for the 50th year of the UIS founding (1965-2015) was shown.

Of course, integral part of the program was the mandatory night party with music and dances. At the last night thanks to the music set prepared by Dinko, the party lasted until the early morning.

Cave diving exercise

Photo: Krasimir Kolevski

On Saturday, 7th of October a cave-diving training was conducted in the “Dushnika” cave where rescuers and specially trained cave divers from Bulgaria, Slovenia, Serbia and Hungary participated. The main goal of the training was to evacuate a victim trapped behind a syphon. The cave divers had to transport the stretcher to the other side of the syphon, to provide first aid, to equip the victim with a mask and breathing equipment and again using the stretcher to transport him outside of the cave.

The joint international exercise of rescue cave divers were shown on the national BTV channel.

International cave rescue exercise

As a part of the activities from the 11th European Cave Rescue meeting on 29th and 30th of September an International exercise was conducted with the participation of cave rescuers from Austria, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Poland, Slovenia and Iceland. Accidents were simulated in the caves “Balabanova dupka” and “Granicharskata”, situated close to the village of Komshtica, Godech Municipality.

Balabanova dupka

Photo: Sigurður Ólafur Sigurðsson

In “Balabanova dupka”, an underground camp was organized for the victim and a communication channel connecting the cave with the base camp outside.

Wireless communication was used during the action utilizing the “Nicola 3” digital radio provided by the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC) and the Bulgarian “Speleotelecom”, which is a combination of a wireless connection from the base camp to the cave entrance and cable connection inside the cave. The victim was warmed, after a consultation with a physician, the necessary medications were applied, and after that the patient was immobilized in the stretcher and transported outside the cave in about 4 hours.

Photo: Sigurður Ólafur Sigurðsson


In the “Granicharskata” cave on the next day, again a medical team was present, as well as many groups for rigging the pits and transporting the stretcher. The cave is about 80 meters deep and the stretcher evacuation started from -60 meters. Despite the little depth, the stretcher transport was hard because of the large number of narrow galleries and meanders. The preparation of the vertical rope rescue systems took about 4 hours and the stretcher transportation took 3.5 hours. Communication through the digital radio “Nicola 3” was used during this rescue operation.

Photo: Sigurður Ólafur Sigurðsson

Eight cave rescuers from abroad and 27 from Bulgaria (1 physician, 22 cave rescuers and 4 cavers from the Bulgarian Federation of Speleology) participated in this training, as well as a professional photographer from Iceland, working on his own project for popularizing volunteer rescue services across Europe.

The photographer from Iceland – Sigurður Ólafur Sigurðsson, presented his project (Project SAR Europe) http://www.sosfotos.com/project-sar-europe. The project is focused on the photographing of rescue teams from Europe. As a result, a traveling photo-exhibition is expected as well as a possible book creation. The aim is to show people participating in rescue actions in Europe and to connect them through images. Up to the current moment, the Sigurður has documented the activities of teams from Air Zermatt, Dublin Wicklow MRT, Irish coast guard Howth unit, ICE-SAR Iceland and already Cave Rescue Bulgaria.

One of the major goals of the international training was fully achieved – to improve the communication and cooperation during actions with cave rescuers from different countries.

Pre-meeting program

Duhla cave
Photo: Anton Partalev

Several additional activities were organized in the days between the training and the 11th European Cave Rescue Meeting: Visits of the “Duhla” cave – the longest cave in Bulgaria with more than 18 kilometers of labyrinth galleries and very beautiful formations.

A climbing of the “Musala” summit, which is the highest on the Balkan Peninsula (2925 m), was planned but due to prophylactic examinations of lifts (preparation of rope ways for winter exploitation), it was replaced by a hiking in the lower parts of the mountain. Historical sightseeing in Sofia were also part of the pre-meeting activities.