After falling into a quarry and sustaining serious injuries, Sally Nowell spent a long and frightening night wondering if she would be rescued in time…

My accident happened on a summer evening in August 2018. I was out running with my dogs and two others I was looking after for a friend.

We went to my favourite place, a local disused quarry. I love this place because it is quiet and hardly anyone else goes there. That evening I decided to do some hill training, so I took a path I don’t usually take. It brought me out on top of the quarry face, which had beautiful views of the whole quarry and the bowl directly below. Little did I know I was going to get to know that bowl rather intimately during the next 14 hours or so!

I stopped for a breather and walked over to the edge. I stood there for a while, marvelling at how far down it actually was (about 40ft) and enjoying the view. After a few minutes I felt a little dizzy and went to step back from the face, but due to my dizziness and confusion, stepped sideways instead,without noticing one of the little dogs had snuck up beside me. I tripped over him, falling headfirst over the quarry face.

I remember feeling like I was flying and thinking to myself this wasn’t good! I don’t remember hitting the ground but waking up from unconsciousness on my back on top of a very uncomfortable rock. I was confused and scared. It took a few minutes before I realised I had fallen over the ledge. It didn’t occur to me that I really shouldn’t be alive, but all I needed to do was get up and get myself home.

Standing up was tricky but I managed it. I took a tiny step and then another before collapsing back on the ground and losing consciousness again. The second time I came around, I remembered the dogs; I looked up above and saw them in a line, watching me and whining.

I spent the night calling to reassure the dogs and crawling (or rather dragging) myself commando style towards what I thought was the exit. I was constantly sliding in and out of consciousness and it was really cold! The reality of the situation I was in didn’t penetrate my mind. I was aware that I was in a lot of pain and that something was wrong as I couldn’t walk, but I had no idea how serious my injuries were. I remember the first time I tried to crawl; I went down on my face because my left arm wouldn’t support me. I can remember bringing my arm up to my face and looking at the odd angle of my wrist, knowing that I had obviously broken my arm.

I was constantly trying to stand and take steps but would collapse and lose consciousness again.

I could hear a police helicopter buzzing around the quarry. I didn’t think anything of it, until it came closer and then I realised that my husband Shaun had probably alerted the police to my disappearance and they were out looking for me. The police and Shaun searched all night but failed to find me.

Early the next morning, Avon and Somerset Search and Rescue were tasked in to help. They split into small groups on foot and began searching the quarry. A group led by Pete Sadler eventually found me about 10.30am. By that point I was very weak from internal blood loss, shock and cold, which meant that I couldn’t speak very much. I did, however, manage to explain how I had fallen and which parts of my body hurt the most.

My memory is very hazy due to the severe bash on the head I’d received and the drugs that I was given to help me with the pain. Pete talked me through everything that was happening to reassure me.

When Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance arrived, I freaked out a bit as I hate flying. I was reassured and given more medication to calm me down and placed on board the helicopter. Critical Care Practitioner Leonie Middle sat in the back with me, held my hand and talked to me, while Dr Stewart McMorran continued to monitor my vital signs. I was flown to Southmead Hospital where I spent a week in Intensive Care and ten days in the Trauma Unit. I had fractured three of my vertebrae, broken two ribs, had a punctured lung, broken my arm and broken my pelvis in three places. I also suffered a huge concussion, lacerated my spleen and needed two blood transfusions. While in hospital, I stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated – I remember coming back to life, which was a very surreal experience.

My recovery has been long and painfully slow. Unfortunately, I haven’t physically been able to carry on as normal. Having a shattered pelvis meant that once I was out of intensive care and off my back, I had to walk with crutches and when I say walk, I really mean shuffle! It was a good three months before I was able to walk without them.

I was told I would probably never ride again and definitely not competitively, which was heartbreaking. I was on a large amount of pain relief medication for a long time, this probably made me feel better than I actually was and I started to do things like ride my horse, walk the dogs and run again a bit too soon. This set my recovery back on several occasions. However, with sheer grit and determination, I am now riding my own horse and eventually back working as a stable jockey. I am also doing my old circuits class once a week to regain my muscles and fitness and I am running again. It isn’t pain free, but I am making progress and I thank God every day that I am able to regain my active lifestyle.

In December, Shaun and I were invited to Henstridge to meet the aircrew, some of the Search and Rescue Team and the Charity’s Patient and Family Liaison Nurses, which helped so much with my ongoing recovery.

It’s a year since my accident and I still can’t believe how incredibly lucky I am. My survival instinct kept me going through those long hours of waiting to be rescued, but it was a true team effort that saved my life. Shaun got help so quickly and the emergency services found me and kept me alive. I owe them everything and it is a debt that I will never be able to repay. I will be forever grateful to them all.

The Search for Sally – Pete Sadler

The Avon and Somerset Search and Rescue (ASSAR) Team were called out at 6.35am to search for Sally. We gathered at the entrance to the quarry at 8.00am for a briefing; I joined a search party of four and was given a sector of the quarry to search.

Just after 10.00am, Alex George heard dogs barking and so we both made our way in the direction of the sound. We saw two dogs silhouetted against the skyline and then immediately found Sally laying on the rocks at the level below where they were.

Alex dealt with communications and logistics, while I assessed Sally’s condition. Having identified serious injuries to her chest and abdomen, we requested assistance from the nearest HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) unit. Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance was tasked and were soon overhead.

Once the HEMS team landed, the Critical Care Team worked alongside several members of ASSAR to provide analgesia and splintage. Once Sally was safely packaged, she was loaded into the air ambulance and flown direct to the Major Trauma Centre at Southmead Hospital.

ASSAR are an emergency service charity staffed by volunteers.

If you've been inspired by Sally's story and would like to help us to continue saving lives, we would be grateful to receive your donation. No matter how big or small, every penny donated really will make a big difference! Thank you.

Please select a donation amount (required)
Set up a regular payment Donate