Thursday, 8 January 2015

Neil Moss

I recently stumbled across the story of Neil Moss while browsing through some Derbyshire history. It must be one of those events that lie dormant in the memory for decades because I recall quite vividly being horrified by it at the time.

Neil Moss (full name Oscar Hackett Neil Moss, (1938 - March 22, 1959) was the victim of a famous caving accident in England on Sunday, March 22, 1959. A twenty-year-old undergraduate studying philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford, Moss became jammed underground, 1,000 feet from the entrance after descending a narrow unexplored shaft in Peak Cavern, a famous cave system in Castleton in Derbyshire. 

Initial attempts to haul him free failed because the rope broke several times. When he lost consciousness as carbon dioxide from his own respiration built up in the base of the shaft, he was unable to assist further rescue attempts made with a stronger rope. More rescue efforts were made: June Bailey gave up after six hours, "driven back by foul air," and caving veteran Bob Leakey, in a frogman suit, could not get to him. He never regained consciousness and was declared dead on the morning of Tuesday, March 24, after the final rescue attempt had failed.

His father, wishing to avoid further injury or loss of life in an attempt to retrieve his body, requested that it be left in place, wishing no one else to risk life or limb. The fissure was sealed with concrete and an inscription was later placed nearby. This section of Peak Cavern is now known as Moss Chamber.

It's not my thing, caving. I still find it horrific, the idea of dying like that. Yet expiring as a result of his own exhaled carbon dioxide would have been quite painless. It's the thought of it, his inability to struggle against that unimaginable weight of rock.

The stuff of nightmares.


Sackerson said...

Yes. It's hopelessness we recoil from.

Michael said...

Several years ago, there used to be many stories of potholers getting stuck, and needing the emergency services to extricate them.

I seem to recall that death by carbon dioxide is not un-peaceful, so lets hope he had some time to realise that it really wasn't a good idea before ha passed out.

Sam Vega said...

I heard a terrifying story a few years back, although it ended happily. A party of schoolchildren were being escorted by experts through a cave system, and had to pass through a "sump". The pupil is briefed by the instructor, then ducks under the water, crawls along holding his breath and bumping his back on the underwater ceiling, emerging six feet later when he can stand up again in the air. He is received by the next instructor, so he is never more than a couple of feet from a very experienced adult. Scary, but relatively safe, and character-building.
One boy goes in, and does not emerge. Emergency tugs on the rope from the receiving instructor, and the "sender" goes through to get him. He's not there. Both adults try. No sign. Consternation.
One instructor makes a really determined search, and finds a narrow cleft in the wall - completely unknown to them, even though this is a well-frequented cave. Bravely, he follows it, to find himself standing next to the boy, who has emerged into a small chamber with an air pocket at the top - a bit like the one he was aiming for, in fact. It was unknown to the experienced cavers. The boy had no light with him, and had been standing in darkness in chest-deep water until the instructor reached him. Goodness knows what had been going through his mind - he must have thought that he had done everything right, but the others had gone and left him.
They got him out by helping him retrace his movements. So a happy ending. I seem to recall reading this in a newspaper (rather than journal or blog designed to put the wind up credulous non-cavers) but don't know whether it really happened. But the complete terror of this situation has somehow stayed with me.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - I could cope with some forms of hopelessness though.

Michael - perhaps he thought he'd be rescued until he passed out.

Sam - that story rings a very faint bell with me but I may be confusing it with something else.

I only ever knew one keen caver and he was a little gung ho but I doubt if he's typical of the breed.

0a633w4ZhvSIhb0_tJvjULdekJff said...

I vaguely remember this story. Tried caving - once. Special pleasures - burning back of hand with carbide lamp, crawling down stream bed with cold water running down trouser leg, past privates and out through collar. At the tight bit advised to go in on back, up to left on belly then right and out. Overall a bit brown, dark and damp.

A K Haart said...

0a633w - sounds grim to me, far worse than plodding through the Derbyshire mud on a soaking wet day in winter. At least that's in the open air.

Demetrius said...

Having been to Castleton before 1959 and the caves purely as a visitor, remember it and the story. It gave a feeling of horror at the time. Then my idea of caving was strictly Soho coffee bars. But it is a pastime which has never attracted.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - we haven't been to Castleton for years. The tourist bits of the caves were okay but when the guide pointed out a tiny hole where cavers explored I knew I'll never be doing it.