In the beginning of 2021 a fatal accident at Wollangambe One canyon in the Blue Mountains of NSW, Australiaresulted to the loss of two lives. A sad incident for the international canyoning community.One victim was a student from China and the other victim was a local Senior officer who jumped in the water to help. Both women were swept in a water whirlpool, as the weather was rainy the previous days and the water level has risen in the canyon – normally described as an easy canyon to descend. After the incident Police declared Wollangambe One canyon closed until further notice and interrogations started to define the cause of the accident.
As members of many canyoning descends and having the experience of two actual rescues while canyoning, not fatal thank God, but a fatal incident during an ice climbing excursion, this blog post is written to share some thoughts about the risks and the psychological status of team members unharmed. Safety in canyons is of outmost importance as time is working against us.
For the canyoning team participating in a canyon descent the loss of a member is an extremely painful experience. Suddenly, in a split of a second,the joyful spirit of fun and easy going atmosphere turns into a nightmare. Depending on the level of canyoning practice each member must strictly comply and all theory must be put into careful action. Rope rigging, self-rescue techniques, team management, self-preservation, composure, presence of mind, time management, self-control, cooperation and, most of all, mutual understanding to safely exit the canyon must apply to each one of the canyoners present.
A group gathering in order to arrange all necessary actions is essential. In a canyoning group of various level canyoners usually the most experienced take the lead. Women tend to be more sensitive than men but this is not always the case. It is very important for team members to stick together. Two canyoners must seek assistance, so they need to exit the canyon to call for the rescue. The canyoners remaining at the scene of the accident must keep the living victim warm, in a steady condition or in a case of fatality each member needs to mark their position at the time of the incident. As said before, time is very critical. Especially if the night is coming and the weather is cold.
All canyoning educational programs give specific instructions for a crisis situation. How each canyoner reacts is a strictly personal issue. Therefore, being proactive, keeping calm, practicing empathy and assisting our fellow canyoners the best way we can is extremely important but most important is to get everybody out as soon as possible, avoiding any mistakes and cooperating in perfect harmony.
After the loss of a life there comes a period where all canyoners of the specific group show a tendency of meeting often and discussing the case. Some might experience mixed emotions, fear, regret and anger and others grief, pain and mourning. As the days go by the shock settles and the spirit of canyoning somehow heals the hearts of the people involved and they start descending canyons again. The truth is though that after an experience like that nobody will be the same. Eventually, the joy and fun of canyoning will win but safety will become for them number one factor to continue.