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Cave rescue helped by experienced bat man

WEYBRIDGE — A fish and wildlife specialist for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, familiar with caving techniques through years of surveying bats, used his experience to help an injured man out of a Weybridge cave last week.
Bat researcher Joel Flewelling of Poultney was among the first rescuers able to reach the stranded patient deep inside  Weybridge Cave on the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 6. As reported in the Addison Independent on Monday, the man had broken at least one bone in a fall, was unable to get out of the cave, and sent his friend to get help.
When fire and rescue personnel arrived at the scene, they quickly realized that the confined quarters and vertical shafts of the cave required skills beyond their level of training. They contacted the Vermont Cave Rescue Network, a volunteer group of cavers who have experience safely navigating Vermont’s caves. Flewelling volunteers with the group and he arrived shortly thereafter.
Flewelling frequently descends deep into Vermont caves during the winter to do surveys on hibernating bats. He had completed a formal course on cave rescue just weeks prior to the rescue.
“My supervisor assigned me to take this training because of the risks associated with descending into caves with other researchers to do bat surveys,” said Flewelling. “I had no idea I would be putting these skills to use so quickly.”
Cave rescues in Vermont are rare  — this was only the second full rescue in the Vermont Cave Rescue Network’s 20-year history.
According to Flewelling, a large number of experienced cavers were out of town for the week attending a convention in Pennsylvania. There were few people remaining in the area with the experience necessary to reach the man.
“It was a small crew working down there,” said Flewelling. “We had just the right number of people available to complete the tasks we needed to do to get him out of there.”
Flewelling and 15 other members of the Vermont Cave Rescue Network worked through the night to hoist the man out of the cave. They began their rescue Tuesday evening and were able to bring the man to the surface by dawn. The injured man was transported to Fletcher Allen Health Care where he was treated for his injuries and released.
While Flewelling frequently visits caves throughout the state in his official duties, he had not visited this cave before.
“Weybridge Cave floods every spring, so bats do not hibernate there in the winter,” he said. “Still, everyone there assumed that because I’m the bat guy, that I know all the caves in Vermont. I was glad there were other cavers there who were familiar with the layout of this particular cave.”

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