September 30, 2023


PALMER, TN (WRCB) – A caver was rescued in a nearly 10-hour rescue effort overnight, that involved rescue squads from several cities and counties.

The Chattanooga Hamilton County Rescue Cave/Cliff team assisted with the rescue, which took place inside Sausage Cave in Savage Gulf State Natural Area, according to Wendy Tipton, Public Information Officer for the Chattanooga Hamilton County Rescue Service.

The caver, described as a 59-year old man from Viola, TN, was working across a canyon inside the cave when he fell about 10 feet, injuring his ribs and pelvis.

“Our caver fell at two o’clock in the afternoon, they didn’t initiate a 911 call until 4:30 because they were that far out in the wilderness,” said Brad Tipton, Captain of the Cave/Cliff Technical Unity, Hamilton County Rescue Team.

The emergency call prompted a 10-hour cave rescue deep inside the Savage Gulf State natural area.

“For a couple hours we probably did nothing more than drill and break rock,” Tipton said.

Once the rescue team reached the 59-year-old caver it would still be hours before he saw a doctor.

The man broke several ribs and fractured his pelvic bone in the 10 foot fall, but his experience underground prepared him for what was to come.

“He knew what he was going to have to deal with, he knew there would be pain,” Tipton said, “He knew there would be some very uncomfortable situations and he fought through it.”

Tipton calls it a “highly technical rescue” with lots of rock fall, tight corners and cold temperatures.

“You’re going down a series of vertical drops,” he said, “You’re doing a horizontal cave passage that could be anywhere from 30 feet wide constricted down to 19 inches.”

Tipton said the greatest tool in a cave rescue is the flexible stretcher. It keeps the patient secure while giving up any extra space. Rescue crews need to be in constant communication when navigating underground.”You have to be very clear and concise about what you want,” Tipton said, “Because inches could mean the difference between life and death sometimes.”

What makes the rescue even more incredible is all of the responders in the Hamilton County Cave/Cliff Rescue Team are volunteers. Tipton said they all have separate full-time jobs, but respond to rescue calls when a caver is in trouble.

More than 30 rescuers in all assisted with the rescue, with agencies from Coalmont and Altamont Fire Departments, Beersheba Springs Rescue Squad, Walker County Cave/Cliff Rescue, Grundy County Rescue, and the Tennessee State Park Service taking part.

Once outside the cave, the man was transported to a nearby hospital for examination and treatment.


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