Bill Franz rescued from Fitton Cave

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Bill Franz rescued from Fitton Cave

Postby Caverdale » Aug 14, 2007 8:20 am

From the National Park Service morning report of August 14, 2007. I assume this Bill Franz is the husband of the NSS's Treasurer, Peri Franz.

"Buffalo National River (AR)
Injured Caver Rescued From Fitton Cave

"Rangers received a report of a caver who had fallen in Fitton Cave around midnight on Friday, August 3rd. Fitton Cave, also known as Beauty Cave, is one of the largest caves in mid-America. The victim, Bill Frantz, 63, of Los Gatos, California, was part of a group of eight who had been issued a special permit to explore the cave. According to witnesses, Frantz fell a distance of approximately 12 feet while negotiating the “21-Jumps” section of the cave, about a mile from the nearest entrance (known as the “wet entrance”), around 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening. The park’s SAR team was mobilized along with local first responders and cave specialists. Due to the remote location and severely washed-out roads, arrival at the scene by rescue personnel was delayed. Frantz, suffering from a broken collar bone and bruised ribs, was able to exit the cave under his own power just as rescue personnel were entering the cave at about 5 a.m. He was later treated for his injuries at a local hospital. Subdistrict ranger Lee Brumbaugh served as incident commander. [Submitted by Lee Brumbauh, Erbie Subdistrict Ranger]"
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Postby Squirrel Girl » Aug 14, 2007 9:05 am

Wow. I'm glad he's "OK" in that he exited under his own power.
:-) Could have been worse, I guess.
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Postby Wayne Harrison » Aug 14, 2007 9:07 am

I applaud any caver who self rescues with those kind of injuries.
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Postby FiddleCaver » Aug 14, 2007 11:16 am

I just went through there this last weekend. It was quite slippery, which is pretty unusual for that section of cave, so we took a lower passage. There is something odd about this story. The permits for Fitton are issued on a day by day basis, so you're supposed to be out by midnight. In the 21 jumps passage you're still probably a couple of hours from the entrance, so the time issue confuses me.
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Postby mgmills » Aug 14, 2007 8:44 pm

FiddleCaver wrote:I just went through there this last weekend. It was quite slippery, which is pretty unusual for that section of cave, so we took a lower passage. There is something odd about this story. The permits for Fitton are issued on a day by day basis, so you're supposed to be out by midnight. In the 21 jumps passage you're still probably a couple of hours from the entrance, so the time issue confuses me.


Read the original post carefully.

Caverdale wrote:According to witnesses, Frantz fell a distance of approximately 12 feet while negotiating the “21-Jumps” section of the cave, about a mile from the nearest entrance (known as the “wet entrance”), around 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening


It states the injury occurred around 7:30
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Accident Report

Postby speleophysics » Aug 29, 2007 9:21 pm

Here is a report on the accident in Fitton. Bill has recovered quite well. This report is something I sent out to many of the local cavers who were asking about the accident. It was written soley by me (the trip leader) as pretty much a stream-of-consciousness. Consequently any specific details are subject to correction from others involved. We'll be writing up a report as a group for the ACA. That will be the definitive account:

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Here is a brief description of the Fitton cave accident that occured Thursday, August 2. We will be putting together a much more extensive report which I will forward on when it's complete (could make good newsletter material).

I was leading a group of cavers from my grotto in California (SFBC) into Fitton Cave. We were in the middle of a post-convention grand Ozark tour. John Tinsley (SFBC caver and former MO resident) led some caving and canoeing in MO during the first part of the week. We arrived at Broadwater Hollow on Wednesday evening, and planned on spending the next two days caving in Arkansas.

Our plan for the Fitton trip was to enter the Fitton entrance, go out the Crystal Passage to the Roundhouse Room, return to the T-Room via the East Passage, and then exit the cave via the Wet Entrance. We entered the cave a little before noon and had a nice leisurely trip through the Crystal Passage. We arrived at the T-Room and took a snack break at around 7pm. Throughout the first portion of the 21 Jumps passage things went smoothly. Some people did the jumps, others found creative ways to bypass them (typically by climbing down and back up). We had gotten past the worst jumps and were somewhere around jump 17 (~100 feet from the Round Room), when Bill Frantz attempted a jump and came up short. The jump was not a particularly large one (4.5 ft?), but for some reason he didn't make it (though he had done a more difficult jump previously). Whether he misjudged, or slipped, or something else, no one knows.

He barely ended up with one toe on the far side and his center of mass still well out over the canyon. Because of this, he rotated backwards through the first half (6 feet) of the fall and then contacted the sloping back wall with his head and shoulder. This flipped him forward and he landed on his side/stomach on the floor. The total fall was about 12 feet. Bill never lost consciousness but was in a good deal of pain.

We spent about 1 hour stabilizing him, assessing his condition (there was initially a lot of concern about a neck injury because of how he hit), and formulating a plan. He appeared to have some broken or bruised ribs and some sort of break or dislocation in his shoulder. We immobilized his right arm. We were lucky to have an experienced and capable group (Bill himself is an NCRC instructor and remained coherent throughout the ordeal - sometimes giving pointers).

Two of the stronger cavers remained behind with Bill (John Tinsley and Jonah Schachner). I led the remaining 5 of us out of the cave and we assessed the plausibility of self-rescue. We decided that we thought we could get him out on our own (assuming his condition didn't significantly worsen). We all went back up to the vehicles. Will Heltsley and I gathered several ropes and pulleys and two sets of verti-gear for assisting Bill up the 4 climbs that he had to do. We also gathered a stove, some food, and a piece of plywood from the loft in the back of my truck in case we needed a backboard for the final crawl. These things were left at the entrance. The other three cavers were sent to effect a callout and get Bill's wife Peri who was already camped at Kyle's Landing.

By the time we got back to Bill we were in high spirits because we really thought we could get him out (or more that he could get himself out with some help). Also, it's hard not to enjoy such a fine stream passage. When we returned (~5 hours after leaving) Bill was still in a stable condition and was ready to move. The other three cavers helped Bill into a harness and gathered up gear while I went back up to rig the waterfall. Bill made relatively quick progress to the falls. Along the way we typically had one caver in front providing tips on where to step and balance when necessary, and another caver behind providing stabilization by hanging onto the back of his harness. and once there we clipped him in to the safety line with his handled ascender. One caver climbed in front of him moving up the ascender and another climbed behind helping to provide support.

After the first successful climb John Tinsley and I proceeded ahead to rig the final climb series. We rigged static lines on the first two climbs up the canyon near the waterfall. Bill made quick progress here, and even went on a "side trip" to see the waterfall. The final climb was the most serious. For those of you who know the cave it is a slightly tricky climb (and somewhat exposed) that leads to a ledge which you have to belly crawl on for a ways while you're still exposed to the canyon. There were no good natural rig points above it either. We opted to back up to the far side of the room (where the exposed ledge crawl joins the main upper passage) and rigged a counter-weight haul on the 20 ft free drop there.

A single static line was rigged through a pulley. We tied Bill into one end and I ascended on the other with Bill attached to me via my Cow's Tail. This provided a fairly easy means of getting him up the drop. With a group heave-ho we got him over the lip. The last remaining obstacle was the entrance crawl. Hands and knees was easy enough for Bill, but belly crawling was difficult. The easiest method was to have Bill lay on his back and roll side to side while someone pulled on his good arm. It was slow but effective. With some rock moving, and a brief use of the plywood as a bridge over an uneven rock pile we arrived at the entrance.

Just as we were coming out of the final crawl I saw some lights coming and heard Chuck Maize say, "Hello, how's it going!" Chuck and Michael Davidson had come in with Eddie Estes and the rescue crew. We arrived at the surface at roughly 5am. Bill made the walk out to Broadwater and then rode in to the Harrison hospital with Peri. It turned out that he didn't have any broken bones. His collar bone had separated from his scapula (tearing whatever connective tissue holds them together) and his ribs were badly bruised. He is recovering well, and when I saw him a couple of days ago he already had his arm out of the sling.

We've already had a bit of a rescue debrief and will be writing up a report with more details and trying to summarize what we think that we (and others) can learn from this incident. I'll be sure to make that available once we have it. Overall we were exceedingly lucky that 1) the injuries were as minor as they were, 2) we had a very experienced group, and 3) the rescue response was pretty rapid (if anything else had gone wrong, help was already on the way). My thanks to those cavers and rescuers who were so rudely awakened in the night. We appreciate you being there for us.
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Re: Accident Report

Postby Squirrel Girl » Aug 30, 2007 6:19 am

mdcovin wrote: Throughout the first portion of the 21 Jumps passage things went smoothly. Some people did the jumps, others found creative ways to bypass them (typically by climbing down and back up). We had gotten past the worst jumps and were somewhere around jump 17 (~100 feet from the Round Room), when Bill Frantz attempted a jump and came up short. The jump was not a particularly large one (4.5 ft?), but for some reason he didn't make it (though he had done a more difficult jump previously). Whether he misjudged, or slipped, or something else, no one knows.


Holy cow. When I read that paragraph, all I could think was "inevitable." If not Bill, then somebody. And for exactly those reasons, "misjudged, slipped, or something else." Somebody was gonna mess up for some reason. Duh! Twenty one jumps *on average* 4.5 feet across??????????

Don't forget to post up the next time it happens, too.

INEVITABLE. Glad Bill's OK.
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Postby Stridergdm » Aug 30, 2007 7:01 am

Ignoring the cause of the accident, I've got to say it looks like the rescue was about as good as it can get. I mean if you're going to have a rescue, a self-rescue is one of the best and a self-rescue where you can walk most of the way out is even better.

I think calling for help while effecting self-rescue is a great example of planning ahead. From talking to cavers over the years, it seems many are reluctant to actually call in outside resources, not sure if it's ego, risk of embarrassment or what. But by calling in the rescue, even though they never entered the cave, had something gone wrong (more problems on the vertical or something) the time to get outside help was cut down considerably.

I look forward to the write-up in the ACA.
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Re: Accident Report

Postby speleophysics » Aug 30, 2007 11:58 am

Holy cow. When I read that paragraph, all I could think was "inevitable." If not Bill, then somebody. And for exactly those reasons, "misjudged, slipped, or something else." Somebody was gonna mess up for some reason. Duh! Twenty one jumps *on average* 4.5 feet across??????????

Don't forget to post up the next time it happens, too.

INEVITABLE. Glad Bill's OK.


True enough that traversing the passage is a questionable activity, but it's not as bad as it sounds. While the name of the passage is 21 jumps, it's really more like 4 jumps with the rest being steps across of 1-2 feet. I also note that inherent danger in such an activity is very height dependent. In the place where Bill fell, I could actually statically stem across; for me it was a step.

However, I think one of the important things we learned was the feasibility of the alternate route. Since it is the traditional route through the cave, I would be curious to know how many other injuries have occured there. It is a heavily trafficked cave. I believe that I have heard this is one of the places in the cave where the most injuries have been reported, but I haven't heard anything about the other incidents and believe that this was the most severe.
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Re: Bill Franz rescued from Fitton Cave

Postby nineballman » Feb 11, 2008 9:24 pm

Been to Fitton many times............somewhat local guy. I have been out the natural entrance once. I usually go in the winter, so we only use the man-made entrance. I did sustain a minor injury at the top of the stream passage. Roughly .5 mile from the entrance, I dislocated my shoulder trying to come up out of the passage to the top of the room. I have a friend that has been through there many times and he has a few stories. "21 jumps" would be a rough place to get out of if they continued to the nature entrance. Glad to hear Mr. Franz is OK. Was this brought to the attention of Chuck Bitting, one of the park rangers?
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Re: Bill Franz rescued from Fitton Cave

Postby shark » Feb 28, 2009 2:18 pm

The most injuries probably due not occur along the 21 jumps, a principal but lessor used passage. Instead they occur at the manhole, an 8 foot climb down to continue in the main passage. Most of these injuries involve a buddy dropping a flashlight on someone below, such as a heavy mag light. I usually don't climb up and down the 21 jumps because I usually don't bring climbing gear, so I jump them. Only one is difficult because the jump is not strait across but requires you to jump at an angle as the passage jogs across the gap. It is a one way jump as the landing is lower then where you came from making it impossible to jump back. Which is why the 21 leap passage is only recommended for exiting. I never took the route up the waterfall to the wet entrance as described. That route while more obvious appears most difficult. From the bottom of the waterfall, if you backtrack slightly and search up to the left there is a small passage that eventually works its way and comes out at the top of the waterfall. This passage is difficult to find, Chuck first told me about it, but it still took our group a couple hours searching before we figured it out.

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