Fatality in 'testing' cave route was first

A 50-year-old died after developing hypothermia during a caving accident at Castleton, an inquest heard.

Computer software programmer Paul Fowkes was on the final leg of the journey through Giant's Hole when the tragedy occurred last December 2.

He was trying to climb out of the "Garlands" section when he got into difficulties and ended up dangling horizontally on a rope.

Cold water was cascading down the shaft of the cave and, by the time he was hauled back up, he appeared lifeless.

Mr Fowkes, a member of Castle Mountaineering Club, was an experienced rock climber who had been caving a number of times and had negotiated Giant's Hole successfully on a previous occasion.

Team member Hugh Dowling said Mr Fowkes was the last to climb the final "pitch".

"He started climbing. He shouted that he was having problems and could I lower him," said Mr Dowling.

But he could not get enough slack on the rope to do that and called to colleague Steve Belk, who returned to the cave and then left to alert rescue workers and paramedics.

Mr Belk went back inside the cave and he and Mr Dowling pulled Mr Fowkes up until he was almost within reach, but then a rope jammed.

Alan Walker, a member of Derbyshire Cave Rescue for 25 years, was one of three men sent inside the cave at 9.15pm.

"I was shocked to find someone hanging on the rope. We pulled him high enough to be clear of the rope he was hanging on and got him up," Mr Walker told the Chesterfield inquest.

Mr Fowkes was taken to Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport, but efforts to revive him failed and he was declared dead the following morning. He died from cardio-respiratory failure due to hypothermia.

Mr Dowling said everyone in the party had become very wet in the cave, adding: "I have known Paul for about 12 years and he was susceptible to being cold when others weren't."

Mr Fowkes' girlfriend, Mandy Gillott, had left the cave before he got into trouble. He had told her he felt cold and he was getting sprayed by a waterfall. She said he was in there for eight hours

Rescue worker Richard Whitehouse said the Garlands section was testing for those feeling cold and tired – although this was the first fatality.

North Derbyshire Coroner Tom Kelly recorded a verdict of death by misadventure on Mr Fowkes, who lived in Rotherham.