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We were deep inside a cave on a rescue exercise carrying over 100kgs of gear, and I thought ‘there must be a better way’.

Grant Prattley, April 2022

We had rigged a tracking line with a 70m offset with a small team of rescuers. We hauled the patient and lots of equipment up the pitch with a larger team. After 24 hours on the go, three rescuers remained at the top of a 110m pitch. 

After a quick calculation, I realised we had completed over 1000m of hauling in 24 hours! Then, as we carried over 100kgs of rescue gear out to the entrance, I thought there must be a better way!


What can 1000m of hauling in 24hrs and carrying over 100kgs rescue gear do?


It nearly broke me, but most importantly, it got me thinking and questioning what we do.

First, we must stop and analyse what we need and then act. Contrary to what you might think, the latest rope rescue equipment and high-end techniques will not necessarily help you achieve your goals.

My name is Grant Prattley, and I am the founder of Over The Edge Rescue. We help organisations improve their performance. We provide customised rescue solutions to organisations in New Zealand, Australia, and worldwide.

We find out what you need first and then, working with you, develop a solution. 

For example

We worked with the New Zealand Speleological Society (NZSS) to develop a new way of operating in cave rescues by defining the problem first. It was important to have first-hand knowledge of the operating environment and have experienced the challenges rescuers have.

These are the things we found for cave rescues:

  • Rescues occur deep in caves several hours from the entrance
  • For every hour travelled into a cave, it’s 12-24 hours to rescue a person
  • Rescuers operate in smaller teams (3-4)
  • Rescuers don’t often train together (1-2 times per year max)
  • Rescuers limit the amount and size of gear they can carry. Cave packs tend to be 35 litres and have a small profile to fit through narrow holes.
  • The rescue load is usually 100kg. As cavers are set up for efficient ascending, the attendant ascends beside the stretcher.
  • It’s all manual labour. There is a lot of physical and mental fatigue.
  • Rescuers need to be self-reliant for the first 24 hours – feeding, sleeping, drinking.
  • Rescuers need a broader understanding of cave rescue, including underground comms and incident management.

We ran several workshops to test a new simple system based on lighter weight ropes and equipment, including the gear cavers usually carry. Only then could we develop rescue courses that met the organisation’s needs.

The final step was to put everything together during a 36-hour deep cave SAREX (Search and Rescue Exercise).

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