The sister of a father who was ‘crushed to death’ in an indoor cave while playing with children at a birthday party says she has been left ‘traumatised’ after witnessing the tragedy first-hand.
Carl O’Keeffe slipped and got stuck inside a narrow tunnel for four hours at the Kong Adventure Centre in Keswick, Cumbria, on April 22.
The experienced climber from Lancaster, hailed as a ‘devoted dad’, suffered crush injuries and was rushed to hospital in Carlisle, but tragically died after being taken off life support.
His sister Olivia Short, who had been at his bedside in hospital since the incident, told The Telegraph: ‘I saw him die, I’m traumatised.’
Ms Short also said in a Facebook post before his death: ‘The palliative care team are now taking care of his pain. He is no longer distressed. He has brief lucid moments but he is no longer able to talk.
Carl O’Keeffe died after getting stuck in an indoor cave while playing with children at a birthday party
The experienced climber from Lancaster, hailed as a ‘devoted dad’, suffered crush injuries and was rushed to hospital in Carlisle, but tragically died yesterday
The terrifying incident happened at Kong Adventure Centre in Keswick, Cumbria
‘He listened to a poem read out by his daughter. And a story [his son] chose about the dark.’
This was followed by tragic confirmation he had passed away in a separate post, in which she wrote: ‘At 3pm today [Sunday] I sat with Carl and said good bye forever.
‘He was my baby brother and over the last few years became my best friend.
‘I loved him dearly and we were in contact daily doing word challenges and exchanging weird facts of nature. I also got to spend alternate weekends with him and his children.
‘I have been with him since his accident in Keswick on Saturday 22nd April. he was taken to Carlisle hospital intensive care with crush injuries.
‘It became apparent that the injuries were severe and he would not be able to survive.
‘He was then moved to a private room and I was able to stay with him so that he could die with some dignity.
‘Adam was with me and Carl during those last days. He was my support and my rock, he helped me get through this unbearable time. I’m broken-hearted. As are the rest of our family.’
It has since emerged that previous concerns have been raised about the safety of the venue, with some people concerned about adults getting stuck in the tight tunnels.
Tragically Carl O’Keeffe died from ‘severe injuries’ following his ordeal in the cave
Mr O’Keeffe became stuck in an indoor cave at the facility (Pictured: a photo of a closed cave at the facility in 2020)
The father was put on life support after the incident on April 22, but sadly died after it was switched off
Mr O’Keeffe, pictured, was described as a ‘devoted dad’ by heartbroken family members
Previous visitors to the tourist attraction have raised concerns about safety, with one person saying it was ‘not a matter of if, but when a person is critically injured’.
One person complained on TripAdvisor in 2017 that their 5ft 10in partner also got stuck while doing the indoor caving.
She wrote that the man and her 12-year-old daughter were allowed onto the cave with ‘no supervision’.
‘He became stuck almost straight away he tried to move on thinking there would be an escape route at some point but there wasn’t.
‘My daughter became very distressed as she thought her step dad was stuck.
‘He remained calm for her sake but absolutely hated this experience. He managed to back out and we went back to reception.’
She finished by warning ‘Do not use the caving unless you are tiny and therefore this means most people cannot go in with their children’.
The centre responded on TripAdvisor by saying: ‘We are so sorry for your experience at Kong Adventure and a full apology was given, along with a full refund and an alternative activity was offered. Again we would like to apologise.’
Mr O’Keeffe became stuck whilst climbing at the popular Cumbria attraction on April 22. Tragically, he died eight days later
Dozens of emergency workers were scrambled in a desperate attempt to free the 49-year-old after he became trapped in a narrow ‘cave’ at the Kong Adventure centre in Keswick, Cumbria
Another visitor in October 2021 complained that their child ‘nearly suffered a critical head injury’ during an incident while descending a climbing wall.
The person wrote ‘for inexperienced children using the climbing wall it is extremely unsafe due to this lack of supervision’, adding: ‘The instructor was clearly unable to cope watching numerous children climbing and incredibly rude and arrogant after the incident.
The person added: ‘The matter has been reported to the local authorities, it is a not a matter of if, but when a person is critically injured.’
The venue responded by saying: ‘I understand that your child is the most precious thing in the world to you, just as everyone’s child is to us when they come to Kong. All our sessions are extremely safe and we have a very hardworking and experienced staff team.
‘The instructor gave a brief to all children in the group of how to climb the wall safely and how the auto belaying system works for descending properly. However, from time to time if children don’t follow the instruction properly, they can spin descending off the wall and unfortunately this has happened to your son and he has bumped his head on one of the holds.
‘Also, the instructor didn’t deserve to be sworn at and belittled in front of the whole climbing wall. It’s unfortunate that this happened but climbing can be a dangerous activity.’
Mr O’Keeffe’s sister Olivia Short paid tribute to her brother following his death on Sunday. She said: ‘I’m broken-hearted. As are the rest of our family’
Keswick Mountain Rescue, who attended the scene on April 22 alongside the air ambulance, fire crews and cave rescuers, said Mr O’Keeffe got stuck in a ‘narrow tunnel’ as he attempted to turn at Kong’s climbing wall.
‘A multi-agency response was initiated and fire and rescue, police, ambulance and Keswick MRT were quickly on scene.
‘As this was a cave rescue/confined space type of operation the Keswick MRT leader called in Cumbria Ore Mines Rescue Unit (COMRU), and the Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) also attended.
‘While the emergency services were deciding on evacuation plans the climbing wall staff, assisted by visiting climbers, started dismantling sections of the wall to aid access to tunnels hidden behind the climbing wall panels.
‘With time passing there was growing concern for the trapped man’s health as he was in a static position in a confined space.
‘With this in mind the Keswick MR team doctor called in the GNAAS Helimed resources.
‘After some fantastic work by the climbing wall staff, climbers, COMRU, and fire and rescue (with their specialist cutting equipment), the man was released from his captivity.
‘He was then transferred by land ambulance to Carlisle hospital for further checks and treatment.’
Climbing wall staff, assisted by visiting climbers, dismantled sections of the climbing wall to aid access to tunnels hidden behind the climbing wall panels.
He was rushed to the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle where he remained until his death.
Shortly before he died he was read a poem by his daughter, Mr O’Keeffe’s sister said.
Mr O’Keeffe’s family paid tribute to the devoted father with a ‘brilliant mind’, saying: ‘Carl was a devoted parent and he will leave a huge hole in their lives.
‘He was a strong advocate for the neurodiverse community. He taught people to learn what adjustments they needed in life and to not only accept them but to live them.
‘He was often seen in dark glasses and a fedora hat as he was photophobic. He had a brilliant mind and was in the process of applying to start an astrophysics PHD.
‘He was fascinated by solar storms and had been predicting the one that happened this week while he slept. He spent years having the NASA Hubble photos tattooed onto his arm.
‘We cannot stress enough what an amazing job the emergency services did in very difficult circumstances.’
Grief-stricken friends also paid their final respect to the ‘devoted dad’. One woman said: ‘Carl was a lovely guy, devoted dad and wonderful advocate for children and adults who have autism. Thinking of his family and children at this incredibly sad time.’
Another person added: ‘Life is so unfair and cruel. My thoughts are with you and your family.’
Others spoke of their disbelief at the heartbreaking accident. ‘What an absolute tragedy, feel so sorry for his family, his poor children, that a day of adventure ended in them losing their Dad. So heartbreaking,’ said one woman on social media.
Mr O’Keeffe’s family said more than 50 people were involved in the rescue.
The incident was attended by six crews from Cumbria Fire and Rescue, police, Keswick Mountain Rescue, Cumbria Ore Mines Rescue Unit, Great North Air Ambulance and the Northwest Ambulance Service’s Hazardous Area Response Team.
A spokesperson for Cumberland Council said ‘We have been notified of an incident that took place at the Kong Adventure Centre, Keswick, and are investigating the matter, as the regulating body.’
Earlier in the week, a spokesperson for Kong Adventure Centre said: ‘On Saturday 22 April, a member of the public became stuck in the cave system at Kong Adventure.
‘Staff tried to help the man and followed all emergency procedures but it became apparent that outside assistance was needed.
‘Fire crew, mountain rescue, cave rescue, paramedics and Kong staff then worked to extricate the casualty who was taken to Carlisle hospital for further treatment.’
In a statement following Mr O’Keeffe’s death, a spokesman for the adventure centre added: ‘All the staff at Kong Adventure are shocked and saddened to hear this terrible news. Our thoughts at this time are with the family, friends and everyone involved.’