The daughter of a Chorley man tells us how he died following a freak accident while out exploring caves in the Yorkshire Dales

The daughter and friends of an experienced caver who died after falling down a pothole in the Yorkshire Dales have spoken for the first time of their heartache.

Harry Hesketh with one of his grandsons
Harry Hesketh with one of his grandsons

Wendy Uchimura said she would be “forever grateful” to everyone who tried to help save her dad, Chorley-born Harry Hesketh, following his fall.

Harry Hesketh, 74, fell 20ft inside the cave at Curtain Pot on Fountains Fell on June 1, breaking his leg.

He died despite the efforts of a rescue team of 94 people who spent 17 hours trying to save him.

Harry loved the outdoor life

Mr Hesketh’s daughter, Wendy said her father always liked to be active, with caving and potholing his biggest passions.

Mrs Uchimura, 43, said: “As a caver’s daughter, and as anyone who has a loved one who enjoys activities that have an element of high risk will understand, there is always the dread in the back of your mind that today might be the day you get that call.

“But to receive that news at this time of his life was surreal.

“I knew he was still as active as ever with his dig partners. They were always very careful and took all the precautions needed in case there ever was an accident.

Harry Hesketh with his daughter Wendy

“They’ve had so many close calls and lived to tell the tale over the years that I think maybe we all thought they’d just go on potholing forever.

“It didn’t really hit me until I arrived in the UK four days later that this time was it.”

She said her father, who lived at Bradley, near Skipton, had joined the Northern Pennine Club in the 1960s and was involved in exploration of a number of potholes on Fountains Fell over the years.

“My dad went potholing at least twice a week, whenever possible.

“After retirement, I know he also made several trips to Matienzo in northern Spain to explore new cave systems,” Mrs Uchimura added.

“He also helped at Stump Cross Caverns to remove debris from Reindeer Cavern, so it could be opened to the public in 2000.”

Mr Hesketh also enjoyed karate and was fascinated by Japanese culture.

“This played an important part in my decision to move out to Japan, ” Mrs Uchimura said.

“He visited me there more times than I can recall and even learnt the language so he could converse with the in-laws and play with his two grandsons.”

Born in Chorley, Lancashire, Mr Hesketh moved to Yorkshire in his late teens.

He trained as a computer programmer and worked for Craven District Council in the days when the science was still in its early stages.

He met his former wife, Tres, in the late 1960s when he visited her village for a caving meeting.

The couple had their daughter and settled in the village of Bradley, just outside of Skipton.

They went on to divorce many years later, but remained good friends.

Mr Hesketh later found love again with his long-term partner Sue and they enjoyed many holidays together with their friends Mike and Lorna Thomas.

Wendy said:“My earliest memories of dad are him reading The Hobbit to me as a bedtime story and him taking me on seriously long walks across the moors. He would then have to give me a piggy-back home.

“We spent so many happy times going on walks all around the Dales and the Lake District with him.

“Dad came across as strict and a bit scary - especially to my boyfriends - but was was actually very kind and loving.

“He gave me the freedom to do what I wanted, while being there for me if I needed and this is something I have inherited and try to do for my children too.”

Mr Hesketh’s friend, Mike Thomas, with whom he made annual trips ice climbing in Scotland, said: “He was always helpful - as I found out when, ahead of a Pennine minibus trip to Switzerland.

“I realised I’d left my passport in Durham.

“He drove me from Bradley to Leyburn for a passport exchange with my parents driving from Durham.”

John Cordingley, a member of the Northern Pennine Club said he would remember Mr Hesketh for his “great kindness”.

“The bloke was a rock, ” he said.

“We’ve lost a good mate.”

Wendy added: “We’re all devastated at his passing and it will take a very long time to come to terms with it.”

But she went on: “The efforts put in by the rescue teams, cavers, and local community were way above and beyond anything I could have expected.

“It has also really brought home to me what a wonderful tight-knit community there is in the Yorkshire Dales. The rescue organisations work so hard to keep us safe on and under the fells, all on a volunteer basis.”

Mr Hesketh was exploring a remote part of the Yorkshire Dales with two friends when he fell, suffering a broken femur.

His companions ran to get help and emergency rescue teams rushed to the scene at Curtain Pot on Fountains Fell.

A total of 94 volunteers worked tirelessly for more than 17 and a half hours.

More than 70 personnel were on site below and above the ground, as well as volunteers providing food and drink, coordinating resources, both human and equipment, and communications.

Phil James, duty controller for the Cave Rescue Organisation (CRO), described how workers struggled due to the narrowness of the passages.

Mr James said: “The nature of the dig made it extremely difficult for us and because the cave had not been mapped we had no idea what we were going to at first. “

The cave had not been explored before and there were no rigging points to help us get in and out, but the remaining explorers were extremely helpful in giving us all the information they could.

“We managed to get the first group who had medical equipment in to help the man as soon as we could. He was receiving the best medical care we could provide.”

As well the CRO, mountain rescue teams from across Yorkshire and Cumbria and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency were involved in the operation.

Mr James said: Due to the nature of his injuries it was clear he would not be able to help himself by moving or supporting his weight and it soon became clear he would have to be immobilised.

Mr Hesketh died at around 11.30pm, 12 hours after his fall.