by: Beth Finello, Ozarks First

Newton County Sheriff Glenn Wheeler said cavers and rescuers spent much of New Year’s Eve, and part of the previous night, working to rescue an injured caver.

Wheeler said Amanda Comer, 28 of Austin, Texas fell approximately 20 feet while in a cave on private property in the north part of the county. Comer was reported to be approximately 4,000 feet into the cave, and beyond some very difficult obstacles, when she fell. Wheeler said Comer apparently had a broken arm, injured ribs, and other injuries.

The accident reportedly occurred around 6:00 P.M. on December 30th while Comer was exploring the cave with a group of nine other cavers. Some members of the group made the arduous trip out to summon help, while the rest of the group stayed behind with Comer.

The cavers that made their way out contacted local people in the caving community who, in turn, began rallying personnel to help with getting her out.

Wheeler said the cave was a particularly difficult and technically challenging one, making the rescue more difficult. The difficulty of the particular cave was such that even some local cave rescue trained personnel decided they would not be effective and the process began of bringing in very specialized teams from out of state. In addition, others in the caving community that had cave rescue skills responded and began the rescue process.

“What really happened, was the caving community came together to rescue one of their own,” Wheeler said. “We arrived to help manage the mission and to help gather resources, but we let the experts actually affect the rescue. We had cavers here from all over Arkansas and a couple other states. Others were coming from as far away as Chattanooga, Tennessee.” Wheeler went on to say that several agencies were involved in the logistics of obtaining resources and the rescue went smoothly and actually ended sooner than was originally thought, allowing them to cancel some of the farther away resources. “Cave rescues are, by nature, very slow processes,” Wheeler said. “Major cave rescues often last for days and this one had potential to last a lot longer than it did. But, some very experienced folks that knew what they were doing were in the cave with Amanda and made the process go much quicker than we thought it might.”

Comer and the rest of the group were very experienced cavers, some of whom travel extensively to visit caves. “This wasn’t a group of inexperienced ‘flashlight cavers’ that didn’t know what they were doing,” Wheeler said, “Amanda just slipped in a bad location.”

When Comer was finally brought out of the cave, it was over 26 hours since she fell. Once back on terra firma, Comer asked to get out of the specialized rescue basket and walk to the waiting ambulance. Once there, she refused treatment and was transported by private vehicle to the hospital. “She was one tough young lady,” Wheeler said.