When Larry Hubble and four friends went on a cave exploration trip in West Virginia Memorial Day weekend, they didn't expect to be part of a rescue team that would save a man's life.
But to the credit ofthe group's caving skills, the five friends led paramedics to a man who had fallen down a 25-foot waterfall about 600 feet inside a cavern on May 26.
Hubble and his friends spent about seven hours inside the cave during the rescue of the man, who had received a concussion, a broken leg and a cracked vertebra in the fall.
The man, William Bishop of Baltimore, was unconscious and suffering from hypothermia by the timethe rescue team got to him.
"He never would have made it if we hadn't gotten there when we did," said Hubble, of Aberdeen. "I've been caving for 17 years and I've never had an experience like this."
In addition to Hubble, the others who took part in the rescue were Richard Murray of Havre de Grace, Paul Cannon of Churchville, Christopher Just of Perry Hall, Baltimore County, and Ronald Debaugh, a Havre de Grace native who lives in Waxhaw, N.C.
Norma Dalton, a member ofthe Greenbrier Grotto, a West Virginia caving club that participatedin the rescue, said the Harford spelunkers played a key role in getting the trapped man out.
Dalton said, "It was a tough cave to bring someone out of and they did the job."
Murray and Hubble gave thefollowing account of the rescue effort:
The men traveled to Greenbrier County at the foot of the Allegheny Mountains in southeastern West Virginia for a weekend of cave exploration with their friends andfamily.
When the group got to the cave, called Norman Cave, they found paramedics and firefighters swarming around the entrance of thecavern: A man had been in the cave for more than two hours and they couldn't reach him.
Members of the National Cave Rescue Commission, who are specially trained to rescue people trapped in caves, had not yet arrived at the scene.
The Harford men, who had explored the cave before,volunteered their assistance after they learned the rescue squad didn't know the layout of the privately owned cave. The rescue squad also didn't have the proper equipment to go into the cave.
So into the cave went Hubble, Murray, Cannon, Just and Debaugh, leading a team of paramedics to the injured man.
Norman Cave contains about seven miles of caverns with ceilings as high as 60 feet and crawlways where one literally has to be pushed through, Hubble said. It also has numerous waterfalls, some with 40-foot drops.
The first phase of the rescue took about a half hour. The crews had to walk downa 600-foot muddy, rocky slope to the waterfall. The friends and the medics then went down a series of crawlways and ledges to reach Bishop.
The rescue team spent about six hours at the bottom of the roaring waterfall treating the man and preparing to hoist him to the top of the falls.
By this time, about 100 spelunkers from Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., had arrivedat the cave to help the rescue effort.
This group set up a systemof ropes and pulleys over the pit of the waterfall to hoist the litter holding Bishop, who weighs 300 pounds, up from the bottom.
Onceto the top of the waterfall, the rescue team formed two lines and handed off the litter to one another on the way out of the cave. Bishopthen was rushed to the hospital for treatment.
Meanwhile, Hubble,Murray, Cannon, Just and Debaugh walked away from the cave knowing they helped save a man's life.
The following day, the men were backin the cave, this time leisurely exploring its complex web of caverns with friends and family.
Despite coming face-to-face with the dangers of caving, the friends said they're not about to give up the sport. "It never entered our minds to stop caving," said Hubble, 37, who works at Maryland QC Laboratories in Aberdeen. "We know the possibility of getting hurt is there. You've just got to be careful."
Murray, 35, said he has been fascinated with caves since he was a boy, remembering family trips to Tennessee and reading road signs that advertised cavern tours.
Murray said he and his family never went to those caverns. But one day, about 17 years ago, he called his longtimefriend Hubble and asked if he wanted to go explore a cave.
Hubbledid. He and Murray were immediately hooked on the sport.
"It's one of the most rewarding sports," said Murray, who works for Dalco Medical Products Inc. in Baltimore. "You go through that much effort to see something you can't see anywhere else."