Saved after a nightmare 24 hours roped together on a one square metre rock.

On Saturday morning British doctor David Irons and six other colleagues headed out to Escorca to enjoy a weekend of canyoning in sa Fosca, where between the team, they must have canyoned some 16 times. Little did they know they were going to brush with death. The team, which included an ex-Royal Marine and two members of the British army, had plenty of mountaineering experience and was fully equipped with wet suits, ropes, helmets, food and medical supplies. David Irons told the Bulletin yesterday that they were well aware of the recent rain and he had checked with two local mountain guides about the situation in sa Fosca. They said that the going would be heavy and tough, but not impossible and no reason not to go. “Obviously canyoning is best when there is water, there's no point doing it when it's dry,” Irons said. The guides said it was unlikely that the reservoir Gorg Blau had burst its banks and was over flowing in parts. Considering that most of the team had been up and done sa Fosca before, there was no reason not to go. “We'd only been up there two weeks ago,” Irons said. The team were up in the mountains early Saturday morning, all had been debriefed on the expedition. “The first jump is a 12 metres jump into water,” Irons said. “I was one of the first two in, but we were immediately swept away by the strong current. I had never known anything like it in sa Fosca. “We tried to warn the others not to jump, but over the noise they could not hear us and we could not get back to the jump site against the current. “Our equipment started to break away under the force as more jumped, most of the gear came rushing past us. “I was then washed another 50 metres down the channel, fortunately I was able to grab a hold of a one metre square rock and get a grip. “As the rest of the team came flowing down, we all managed to catch a hold of each other and re-group in the water.” The seventh member of the team managed to find shelter back up the gorge and in order to avoid any further problems, that was where he was ordered to stay. “Once re-grouped and having salvaged as much kit as we could, we realised that just below us were three killer waterfalls which have never been there before.

The six managed to eventually get up on to the one metre square rock. “We weighed up all our options, including climbing out, but it was a 30 to 40 metre climb up the gorge. We had just a little bit of rope left and the side of the gorge was very wet. “We decided against it, if one of us had fallen, he could have taken more with him in to the water and over the waterfalls. “If anyone survived the first, the next two would have killed you..” Irons said. The six climbers roped themselves together, rationed the food, medical supplies and spare batteries for their torches. They also had to get comfortable while not trying to move. Three were suspended with their backs against the gorge, their feet on the rock and the raging current roaring below them. “If anyone had fallen into the channel, they would have been sucked away.” The problem was, by the time the group was on top of the rock, it was only 10.30 am. “As usual I had taken all the precautions and as part of the back-up plan friends were instructed to call the emergency services if there had been no news of us by 6pm - so we knew that nothing was going to happen till at least 6pm at the earliest,” Irons said. “There was no way out and we had no choice but to stay - we could not go on any further down the gorge or someone would have died or been seriously injured.” Irons' best fried called the emergency services at 6pm - 14 hours after the six had struggled on top of the rock. “We tried not to move, we talked a lot, trying to keep each other happy, support each other and keep each other positive, we also had to keep awake. “Come midnight, we assumed that any search would have been called off until the morning, but the emergency services were unbelievable and in fact worked through the night, risking their own lives.” “We managed to keep each other's spirits up trying not to fall off the rock as the wind rushed down the gorge. We worked extremely well as a team, if any one was flagging, they got a bit more food. The team, soaked in water, did a fantastic job,” Irons said yesterday. “At 6am we saw some lights flashing, we had been signalling throughout the night with our torches, but there was a lot of tree overhang across the roof of the gorge.” Once the six had been located, it took the mountain rescue service some three hours to set up rescue equipment and lower three men down on ropes. The six, tired, aching, hungry and scared, although at this point elated, then had to make their way up the 30 metre rock face “half climbing and half being pulled. “We're all very fit, but after 24 hours, we were exhausted and the worst bit was the long walk back to the road. “When we got there, we found our friends who had been there all night. The owner of the Escorca restaurant had been feeding them and the rescue teams all night - he would not accept any money - he said he was just pleased we had been found safely.” “We had escaped unscathed, in hindsight perhaps we sould not have gone up there, but the guides did not advise us against it and we had been there before. “From what I understand the last time Gorg Blau over flowed was in 1994, I had never seen anything like the current and water up there,” Irons said. “The situation was a freak one and something you do not think is going to happen”. “The emergency service though were outstanding and we can not thank them enough.”


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