You are here: home » about us » our history
our history
History of the Cave Rescue in Italy
# The Italian caving community realized the need to organize cave rescue teams in the early 20th century, soon after the first caving clubs were founded.

The first serious Italian caving accident occurred in 1925. During the exploration of the Bertarelli Abyss (Istria, south of Trieste), a flash flood caused by a rainstorm dragged two cavers to the bottom of a pit 130 meters deep. More cavers were stuck in the deepest part of the cave. They were rescued thanks to the huge efforts of cavers left at the top of the pit who were helped by rescue teams from Trieste.

The deadly accident in 1952 at the Pierre St. Martin Cave in the French Pyrenees had a strong media impact and again led some Italian cavers to the idea of establishing a national cave rescue organization.

In 1955 a caver from Trieste, Lucio Mersi, died falling into a pit in the Gaché Abyss, on the Marguareis Massif, on the border between France and the Piedmont region. His body was recovered by a team assembled from Trieste, about 500 km away.

In 1956, during the national caving congress held in Como, Renato Tommasini from Trieste proposed discussing the issue of cave rescue but the proposal was not discussed because the time was not yet ripe.

In Italy the first serious talk about cave rescue began in the 1960s. The cavers who pushed the issue were Marino Vianello from Trieste, Eraldo Saracco from Turin and Sergio Macciò from Jesi, although they all developed their ideas only on a regional level.

In August 1965 two more deadly accidents happened, proving that it was time to organize cave rescue efforts. On the 8th, in Guglielmo Cave in the province of Como, the caver Gianni Piatti died. Rescue teams came from Turin, Bologna, Faenza and Trieste, and it took a week to recover the body. The lack of specific tools, both technical and medical, was sorely evident, as was the fact that many cavers, while technically sound, were not at all versed in rescue methods. It was also clear that it was necessary to widen cooperation among the different caving clubs.
A week later, in Sardinia, Eraldo Saracco from Turin died after falling into the pit known as Voragine di Ispinogoli (Su Anzu Cave): the body was recovered by his fellow cavers. Their resolve renewed by this deadly event, the cavers of the Gruppo Speleologico CAI UGET of Turin decided to follow up the proposal of the late E. Saracco and organize a national service in charge of cave rescue: to pursue this goal they contacted caving clubs and single cavers from all over Italy.

In 1965, at the 6th Speleological Convention of the Emilia Romagna Region, Giulio Badini from Bologna introduced a paper: "Regarding the opportunity to create a Cave Rescue Corps". There was wide support and the organization fell mostly on the caving club of Turin which provided the group with its first national coordinator, Willy Fassio.

In 1966 the founding meeting was held in Turin and also approved the Rules of the "Eraldo Saracco" Cave Rescue group. Cave rescue in Italy was officially born. Giulio Gecchele succeeded Fassio as coordinator and was in charge until the following year. At first, rescue was locally organized as follows: 1st Group (Piedmont, Aosta Valley, Liguria, Lombardy and Sardinia), 2nd Group (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige), 3rd Group (Emilia Romagna and Tuscany), 4th Group (Marche and Umbria), 5th Group (Lazio, Abruzzo, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, Calabria and Sicily).

Again in 1966, during a rescue in the Buco del Castello (Castle Hole Cave), near Bergamo, the newly created cave rescue community was hit hard: two volunteers died while attempting to reach four cavers blocked by a flood. The event regrouped the ranks and pushed everybody to work together more and better.

In 1967 Chicco Calleri was elected national coordinator. He held the office until 1971.

In 1968, thanks to the interest of Bruno Toniolo, National Director of the Alpine Rescue of the CAI, the "Eraldo Saracco" Cave Rescue became part of the Alpine Rescue, as its Speleological Section.

In 1969 the first national cave rescue congress was held in Trieste: a lot of attention was given to the medical side.
To standardize techniques and material and to facilitate the exchange of experience, a nationwide training programme was started. The first was held at Corchia Cave, in the Apuan Alps (province of Lucca) in 1970.

In 1971 the 6th Group (Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige) was founded. Sergio Macciò became national coordinator and his vice-coordinator was Pino Guidi, from Trieste.

During the decade 1971-1981, the local organization of cave rescue improved, with the founding of three new Groups: 7th (Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily), 8th (Sardinia) and 9th (Lombardy).

In 1971 at the Elefante Bianco (White Elephant) cave in Veneto, the open water diver (not a caver) Gaetano Starabba died during a cave dive. The recovery of the body lasted several days and the rescuers were involved in two more cave diving accidents, although luckily none of them was serious.
This was the first time that the cave rescue team was called upon for a cave diving rescue. Hence several talks followed regarding the need to establish a Cave Diving Commission (which was to be founded in 1984).

In 1976 Pino Guidi became National Coordinator, his Vice-Coordinator being Lelo Pavanello from Bologna. The cavers became more active within the Alpine Rescue, while furthermore the Italian contribution to the international congresses was becoming more important. More commissions were established: Medical, Technical and Prevention.
1976 also brought the accident at the Cappa Abyss, on the Marguareis plateau. Patrick Roussillon broke an arm and a leg at a depth of -540 meters.
Given the depth and the fact that it would be impossible to use a stretcher because of the many tight passages in the cave and because of an internal pit which was 180 m. deep with a waterfall in it, the rescue was difficult and accomplished in collaboration with French cave rescue teams in over 60 hours.
The cave rescue community was stretched to its limits. It became evident that to deal with this kind of emergencies, it was necessary to develop and improve the stamina and technical knowledge of the volunteers. In those days caving techniques were also changing; single-rope techniques were  replacing the use of ladders and thus a radical overhaul of rescue techniques was overdue.

During the last months under Guidi's direction, in 1981, the accident at Vermicino occurred. The child Alfredino Rampi fell to the bottom of a water well. The cave rescue technicians did their best while broadcast live on TV and under the sad eyes of Italian President of the Republic Pertini.
The idea of a cave rescue team organized on a national level stemmed from that experience, with teams of selected technicians to send whenever an emergency called them. The idea came from Pier Giorgio Baldracco from Turin but his proposal was not accepted.

In 1981 Baldracco became national coordinator, which he remained until 1989, with Lelo Pavanello as his vice-coordinator. In those years the Speleological Section of the CNSA was re-organized, thereby improving response time, operational skills and the level of acknowledgment both within the caving community and in the public eye.

In 1984 the Cave Diving Commission was set up: it is in charge of both the prevention and the resolution of accidents in water-filled caves.

In 1989 Gianpaolo Bianucci became national coordinator of the Cave Rescue, helped by two vice-coordinators, Lelo Pavanello and Sergio Dambrosi. During their tenure, cave rescue increased its presence locally with the birth of more Groups: 10th (Sicily), 11th (Marche), 12th (Emilia Romagna) and 13th (Liguria); some years later the 14th group (Campania and Molise) was created. This was another step towards the regionalization of Italian cave rescue: in every region where caves are present, there are also cavers capable of organizing and managing cave rescue.

1990 was a decisive year. The Alpine Rescue of the CAI changed its name from CNSA (National Alpine Rescue Corps) to CNSAS (National Alpine and Speleological Rescue Corps), therefore presenting itself as the only organization able to deliver a full range of rescue operation services both in mountain (low and high angle and cliff) and caving environments.
In mid-January 1990 several teams of rescuers from all over Italy were engaged in an extremely difficult rescue in the Veliko Sbrego cave on the Slovenian side of Mt. Canin, at a depth of over one thousand metres. This rescue is now known as the most massive and difficult rescue operation ever undertaken in a cave.
The same year, in December, nine cavers from the cities of Turin, Imperia and Genoa died under two avalanches while descending the Chiusetta Gorge in the Marguareis massif on the way back from an exploration in the Labassa Cave; their bodies were recovered three days later by the CNSAS rescuers.

In 1992 the so-called Marniga law (L. 162/92) was enacted, allowing volunteers to leave their work, in the event of a rescue or for training, without fear of being dismissed for taking leave.

In 1994 the Canyoning Commission was set up to study the issue of rescue in canyoning activities.

In 1995 the direction of Cave Rescue passed to Paolo Verico from the Veneto region, again helped by two vice-coordinators, Attilio Eusebio and Sergio Matteoli.

From 2001 to 2005 the national coordinator was Sergio Matteoli and his vice-coordinator was Corrado Camerini.

In 2001 the CNSAS held its first mock rescue operation at great depth, in the Cul di Bove cave in the Matese Mountains (provinces of Campobasso and Benevento). Four teams took turns handling the stretcher and the full mock rescue lasted 120 hours.

In 2001 the XV Zone, Abruzzo, was founded.

In 2002 the National School for Cave Rescue Technicians (SNaTSS) was founded.

In 2007 a Croatian caver was badly injured in Piaggia Bella Cave (Marguareis, Piedmont) at a depth of over -500 meters. The injured person was saved thanks to more than 170 technicians from all over Italy, after 96 hours of rescue operation. The accident had a vast follow-up in the media but this time, thanks to the press services of the CNSAS and to the documentary "The Long Night" (which tells the story first hand), the public was able to appreciate the work of the CNSAS without any distortion from the media.

In 2008 the XVI Zone, Calabria, was created.

In 2008 the National School for Cave Rescue Diving Technicians (SNaTSSub) was founded.
The cave rescue technicians, all cavers of proven capabilities and experience and with a basic knowledge of medical first aid, can offer their competence and know-how, thanks to their  continuous training, in the event of a rescue in hostile environments such as caves or canyons, but also in areas hit by natural events such as earthquakes and flooding.

In 2009, for example, CNSAS help was crucial in rescue operations following the earthquake in L'Aquila. It was the technicians of the CNSAS who extracted a student, Marta Valente, alive from beneath the rubble of the collapsed student dormitory of the local university, after she had been trapped for over 23 hours.

In 2010 Corrado Camerini was confirmed as national coordinator of Cave Rescue. His vice-coordinator is Roberto Corti, while Alberto Ubertino coordinator of the newly created Foreign Relations Commission, in charge of the organization of international meetings, congresses and workshops, whose goal is to improve relations with cave rescue groups in other countries.

A new Statute and General Rules of the CNSAS were approved by the general meeting in November 2009, and became effective on January 1st 2010.

In 1966 the Constituent Convention convenes in Turin and approves the Regulation of the Cave Rescue "Eraldo Saracco". The Cave Rescue is founded. Fassio is replaced by Giulio Gecchele, who holds office until the next year. The Country is divided into 5 intervention teams.
About us
Call for assistance
Press area
Media gallery
Contact us
Corpo Nazionale Soccorso Alpino Speleologico - All Right reserved © 2010 - Design: Fuganti e associati