After conducting a speleological research on July 16th and 17th 2011, team of cavers made a bivouac in cave system Kita Gaćešina at -300 m of depth. Speleological research similar to many others previously performed in Kita Gaćešina now devolved into a serious situation when the first cavers began their preparation for surfacing at approximately 10:00 hrs. During their usual dressing, sorting of things and putting on the equipment, the cavers noticed that Tomislav did not respond. He began twitching, his jaw stiffened ... the situation was alarming.
On Sunday, July 17th at 13:03 hrs Alen Kirin exited the pit and informed Darko Baksić, Head of the Cave-Rescue Commission of the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service that Tomislav G. fell into a hypoglycaemic coma during his sleep at bivouac on -300 m of depth.
Currently, there were 12 more cavers in the pit. Some of them began exiting. Ana Baksić, a member of the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service, was present in the bivouac and she took care of the injured Tomislav.
At this moment organisation of the rescue operation started. Head of the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service, Vinko Prizmić was informed of the accident. Dinko Novosel received the task of mobilizing Croatian Mountain Rescue Service physicians that can descend to such depths and to mobilize rescuers according to their Mountain Rescue Service stations. Luka Mudronja prepared rescue equipment in Cave-Rescue Commission’s equipment storage. Teo Barisić prepared drawings of Kita Gaćešina and organized a team to set up phone lines in the pit. At the same time another team was organised in order to set up phone lines along with three additional teams to extend the narrow passages.
At 13:30 hrs at the heliport Firule the first rescue team gathered comprised of a physician Ivana Buklijaš, Darko Baksic, Ivica Ćukušić, Filio Trgo and Hrvoje Dujmić. They were met by on duty team members Mladen Porubić and Dražen Mlinarić. In the telephone conversation with Teo Barišić, they received location coordinates of Kite Gaćešina entrance, required for helicopter navigation and prepared equipment for the landing of the helicopter.
At 14:00 hrs the helicopter with the rescue crew took off from the heliport in Firule.
At 14:40 h Hrvoje Dujmić, Ivan Buklijaš, Darko Baksić, Filio Trgo and Ivica Ćukušić descended by abseiling from the hovering helicopter to the gravel road rotator near the entrance to the cave system Kita Gaćešina.
At 15:10 hrs, physician Ivana Buklijaš accompanied by Alen Kirin and Filio Trgo entered the pit. It was agreed with the physician that, if the telephone connection was not established after the first examination, the information was to be send by one of the cavers exiting the pit. Darko Baksić, rescue leader and deputy leader, Ivica Ćukušić were checking in which stages are the various Mountain Rescue Service teams which started the rescue operation. Darko Baksić contacted the family of the injured caver and announced that he will be in contact with them until the end of the rescue operation.
At 17:00 hrs Ivana Živković exited the pit and reported that Tomislav’s condition after 4 hours of fierce fighting was much better, and that he was conscious. A dramatic situation that took place in the pit at the bivouac was described by Ana Baksić:
“... by his side remained Ana, Petra, Jana and Domagoj. We fed him by force with hot chocolate, sugar and saturated Cedevita . The first half hour we had limited success because he was in total spasm and vomited all that we slowly put in his mouth. After an hour he began to swallow from time to time what we gave him and began to slowly squirm. We were encouraged by these signs, but then we were shocked! Every time somebody went up we measured the amount of sugar so that they could inform the rescuers. After an hour and a half when he first slipped into coma we measured only 1.7% of blood sugar and then we knew that we were running out of time.
We speeded up on feeding with chocolate, Cedevita and everything sweet we managed to find in various bivouac bags. After a dramatic hour he began to show signs of life, uncover and even sometimes open his eyes. We were relieved only when he began to communicate, first with incomprehensible language, and later completely normal. Around 15:00 hours he was much better but his body temperature was low because during the coma he sweated heavily. We changed his clothes and warmed him up. After an hour Alen came with Croatian Mountain Rescue Service physician Ivana Buklijaš who gave him oxygen and stabilize him. Then he was feeling good and was able to move, but was terribly exhausted. Ana, Ivana and Alen remained with him until the arrival of the rest of the Mountain Rescue Service crew who set up the rescue phone lines.”
In the period from 17:10 hrs to 19:07 hrs the majority of teams arrived from the Mountain Rescue Service stations of Gospić, Rijeka, Šibenik, Zadar, Split, Zagreb, Karlovac and Samobor. Darko Baksić, Ivica Ćukušić and Teo Barisić prepared a rescue plan. Dinko Novosel took care of communication with the media. Anton Vukičević assumed the task of telephone communication with the pit. Antonija Mihaljević was charged with the equipment needs issuing equipment to the rescue teams. All rescue teams prepared their personal equipment for the pit. At 18:30 hrs Ivan Mijat entered the pit and started stretching a telephone cable. At 19:00 hrs team with Marin Lukas, Ivica Radić and Filip Filipovic enter with the rest of the phone cable and phones and joined Mijat in setting up the cable.
Briefing of all cave rescue teams was held informing them with the rescue plan. The pit all the way to the bivouac at -300 m was divided into 11 sections (11 teams). Each team received a task - to prepare their section of the pit for transport of stretchers in the vertical passage. This meant that each team in their part of the pit must install anchors, ropes for raising the counterweight system, check the system and solve the transport connections with neighbouring teams. From 20:10 hrs to 22:55 hrs each rescue team borrowed the necessary equipment, entered into the pit and divided amongst themselves to reach -300 m from pit’s entrance.
At 23:36 hrs all rescue teams finished with rigging their sections, the systems were tested the transportation of injured Tomislav G. began. In the first vertical passage, Tomislav was raised by counterweight system until the narrowing called Grlić which he managed to pass by himself belayed by his colleagues. After the narrowing, Tomislav was met by another Croatian Mountain Rescue Service physician Ante Škrobonja where everybody made a break of 20 minutes. The injured was placed in a stretcher where he was medically examined and given infusion. During the entire transport Tomislav was receiving oxygen.
At 02:20 hrs (July 18th) stretchers with injured Tomislav surfaced. This was followed by the transport from the pit’s entrance to the rotator where the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service’s Staff was located. At 02:34 hrs the stretchers were in the base camp. Physician Ante Škrobonja re-examined Tomislav after which, accompanied by physician Ivana Buklijaš, he went by Croatian Mountain Rescue Service vehicle to meet with the ambulance waiting on the main road.
At 05:30 hrs the last rescuer exited the pit after which the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service teams started to leave in order to report to their work places. Team from the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service Pula arrived.
At 06:48 hrs, 10 rescuers entered the pit, in order to clear away all the ropes and anchors. At 11:01 hrs the pit was de-rigged and the last rescuer exited to the surface and thus the rescue operation was successfully completed.
Rescue operation from the cave system Kita Gaćešina showed extremely high qualifications of its members, as well as the logistic readiness of the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service to perform the most complex actions of cave rescuing.
Exploration of deep pits that go deeper than 1000 meters in Croatia encouraged Croatian Mountain Rescue Service to find solutions to the most complex cave rescue actions.
10 years ago the Cave-Rescue Commission was founded (http://www.speleologija.hr/spasavanje/) whose goals are the following:
• Organisation and management of complex cave rescue operations
• Designing programmes and conducting basic cave rescue trainings for the members of the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service.
• Designing programmes and conducting specialized cave rescue trainings for members of the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service.
• Organization of speleo rescue exercises at the state level for the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service.
• Monitoring the development and innovations in cave rescue techniques in the world.
• Cooperation with similar services around the world via IKAR and UIS.
• Cooperation with caving organisations in Croatia in order to prevent accidents and self-rescue training.
• Application of cave rescue techniques wherever there is a need for them.
Text: Darko Bakšić