12th European Cave Rescues Meeting, 2018, Casola Valsenio, Italy

1st – 4th November 2018

The annual ECRA meeting took this year place in Emilia-Romagna in Italy. About 2,500 cavers came to the annual Italian cavers meeting in Casola Valsenio, in the back country from Imola.

This was a good possibility to introduce the European Cave Rescue Association ECRA to a wider auditorium.

ECRA meeting, photo: Ernest GEYER / ÖHR

On time at 1st of November, 21:00 o’clock opened the president of ECRA, Dinko Novosel the ECRA meeting. After a short introduction of ECRA by the general secretary Kurt Dennstedt followed an Italian documentation about the Riesending operation 2014 in Bavaria. The Film was already shown at different film festivals.

The events on Friday and Saturday covered communication, trainings, cooperation with authorities and technique in theory and practice.

One of the first presentations reported in an international community work about the information management during the Thailand rescue operation and introduced the lived practice at CNSAS (Kurt Dennstedt / ECRA, Rosanna D’Arienzo / CNSAS CCD, Italy).

Maks Merela (JRS, Slovenia) presented the experiences on the long and painful way to the certification within the European Civil Protection Mechanism. His Team successfully completed the practical part of the certification in Eisenerz / Austria with a salvage from a distant cave part. In the second part of the exercise they had to support the other rescue groups with general search and rescue tasks in the training center. Focus of the whole exercise was searching of needy people in buildings, in alpine area, in tunnels and caves and the following rescue out of the danger area, inclusive the according supply. The teams involved had to practice at least 36 hours continuously.

The doctors advised about cooperation with the medical commission of ICAR (International Commission for Alpine Rescue), multicasualty incidents and rock enhancements material. Together with the technical commission has the actual status and the possibilities of tele medicine been discussed. With Ermes 2.0, the combined communication system from Italy, is already today speech and video communication between field offices and the location inside the cave possible. The system uses all technical possibilities, from cable to Bluetooth. First tests also in combination with a diving route are already promising. Already for the near future the possibility of tele diagnosis out of the hospital is emerging.

The technicians offered practical exercises for everybody, also non rescuers. Also the usage of portaledges has been shown. Overall, the trend towards more economical use of materials with consistent safety was noticeable. Much space was devoted to communication, e.g. an underground video system from Slovenia and digital data transfer, complemented by a workshop with the Italian communication system Ermes 2.0. Furthermore, the already known Italian, demountable on sack format stretcher was presented. The company Kong presented their products and their production.

The divers worked on recovery options under specific circumstances. On Saturday they went out to an exercise in the further countryside.

The program of the main organizer offered also exhibitions of different types, from photos, paintings and virtual reality to bat research and cave research results.

In the 3 speleo-bars you could indulge in culinary enjoyment, in the biggest one even framed by live music. The Italian caving clubs offered specialties from all over the country. The well-being of the ECRA members was provided by the CNSAS.

On 2 sites you could stock up at around 50 providers on material for the next caving tour. Even a sewing machine for immediate repairs of worn cave clothing was available.

In the general assembly of ECRA guided Dinko Novosel through the review about the past business year. After that the extension by a new commission was decided, responsible for the topic widening of narrow passages in all its facets. Israel was welcomed as new member. Israel has a closer relation with the Bulgarian Cave Rescue, which supports in training. The next ECRA-Meeting will take place in Istanbul / Turkey. Aside the members were also representatives of a 2nd Polish cave rescue organization and guests from Sweden and Greece present.

In the pre-program of the ECRA closing event several short cave rescue diving films have been shown. Mostly it was hard to imagine to volunteer in the stretcher. In the main program – the cinema was full to bursting – took us the Briton Chris Jewell to Thailand. He was one of the cave rescue divers, who freed in July this year the team of 12 soccer players and their trainer from their nearly hopeless situation in Tham Luang Nang Non Cave in the north of Thailand.

We have heard about the difficulties to be accepted. Also specialists will not simply be waved through. First the divers had to prove their competence in a nearby swimming pool, under strict observation by the authorities. Only then could the divers begin their actual work.

Nothing was left to chance. Among other things, the rescue route was simulated with the simplest means outdoors, to minimize the risk during the recovery. Every single move was practiced several times by the rescue team. Only then was the salvage started. The dive should last 90 minutes to the trapped and another two and a half hours to return safely with the boys. In each case, a support team waited in the dry passages to take care of the medical supply and transported the boys to the next siphon. Fortunately in the misfortune was probably the fact that only low diving depths were to be covered. Once again, we were able to witness the success of this hitherto unique mission. Congratulations from ECRA to the successful international cave rescue diver team from around the globe. Thank you Chris for this very, very impressive evening.

All in all have 35 events been offered by ECRA, most times in 3 parallel event lines (see program).

T-shirts with event specific logos have been offered, for the rescuers t-shirts showing just the ECRA logo. The extended board were equipped with a softshell jacket with ECRA logo.

The date of the ECRA-Meeting 2019 will be announced in time.

Many thanks to the lively colleagues of the Italian CNSAS for the hospitality and the organization of the again good visited ECRA meeting.

Report: Kurt Dennstedt / General Secretary ECRA