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 Advanced Rope Systems

Advanced systems is comprised of rope rescue techniques that are complex by their nature. Utilization of these systems require additional training and an understanding of the physical principles that govern their operation. The systems that are included in this chapter are:

  • Tyrolean Traverse

  • Tyrolean Assist

  • Flying "Crane" Operations

  • Multiple Main Line Systems

Overview of the Tyrolean Traverse 

Tyrolean systems can create intense forces that stress equipment and anchors. Great care should be applied whenever a tyrolean is to be used. Tyroleans systems utilize a considerable amount of gear which demands that the unit leader of each group be aware of the state and location of his available gear at all times. Rope and equipment management is of paramount concern in order to keep the operation neat, usable, and safe. 

The tyrolean or high-line traverse is a method developed to transport a subject horizontally from one station to another station where the interval between the points is unmanageable. In the mountains, tyroleans are used to evacuate someone across a steep, narrow canyon or between two rugged peaks. It can also be used to cross a river, a flooded area, or an area covered in cactus. In urban rescue situations the tyrolean may be used to evacuate people from buildings or from disabled bridges. Figure 1 depicts a typical tyrolean application.  

Selecting a proper site is most important. The system must be able to support the full weight of the subject and possibly a tender when they are hanging in the middle of the span. When crossing a river, for example, it is considered poor form to dunk the subject on the way over! By some method, rescue teams are placed at the two ends of the traverse. This may require hiking, climbing, flying, or any other applicable means.  

The first problem presented to the rescue team is the selection of a suitable site for the traverse. This requires that the operations leader consider all possible options and select the best one. The site should be the narrowest spot available with adequate high anchors. The anchors should be high enough to span the gap without interference from the obstacles below.  

Calculating rope sag is difficult because it depends on three factors:  The weight of the load, the length of the traverse, and the coefficient of the stretch in the rope. Given the fact that PMI rescue rope will not stretch more than (10 percent) under average load, a rule of thumb can be devised so that the sag of an average set-up would be about 1 foot for every 10 feet of horizontal run. In other words, if a line were stretched between two points 120 feet apart, the line could be expected to sag about 12' in the middle. This results in a central angle of about 155 degrees or equivalently a downward angle of 12.5 degrees. Figure-2 defines these two angles.  

The force exerted on the anchors can exceed the weight of the load crossing whenever the rope is pulled tightly to allow for minimum sag, as is usually the case. Anchors should therefore be very strong. Furthermore, since the pull is nearly horizontal, anchors must be selected which can resist horizontal and downward pull. In some cases additional anchors may have to be set in line with the directional pull to properly prevent displacement of the primary anchors.  

If the anchor at the point where the weight will be released is higher than the anchor where the weight will travel, gravity can be utilized. Allow room at either end of the tyrolean for loading the litter on the line and removing it from the line.  

It is usually advisable to only transport one person at a time to reduce the stress on the rope and the sag that results. If a rescuer must accompany the subject across, the system should be designed for the additional weight. The tyrolean may be used to move rescuers from one station to the next. In this case each rescuer may propel himself across using hand-over hand or ascending techniques depending on the application and amount of sag in the tyrolean line. If one person goes over alone and intends to propel himself, leather gloves and an ascending device are required.  

Tyrolean Terminology:  

The tyrolean system uses the same terminology as other rescue systems with the addition of the following terms: (see figure-3).

 Primary Tyrolean Line — One of two lines that connect the starting and ending points of a traverse. Although the word "primary" is utilized in the term, the load is typically equally shared between the primary and secondary tyrolean lines. Each tyrolean line must be designed to carry the complete load in the event of a failure of the second line. Typically different color lines are used for the two tyrolean lines. Half inch PMI (static rope) is preferred for the tyrolean lines if it is available:  

Secondary Tyrolean Line — This forms the second of the two tyrolean lines that are to be used for the traverse. The secondary should have the same reliability and strength as the primary line.  

Fixed Side — This is the endpoint of the tyrolean traverse in which the ends of the tyrolean are tied directly to anchor using a figure 8 on a bight or other suitable knots.  

Tensioning Side — This is the endpoint of the tyrolean that contains an adjustable haul system used to tension the tyrolean lines.  

Primary Anchors —The anchors utilized to secure the primary tyrolean lines. Each anchor should be redundant.  

Secondary Anchors — The anchors used to secure the secondary tyrolean line. Each anchor should be redundant. These anchors should be separate from anchors used for tensioning, hauling, or belay systems.  

Tag Lines — Tag lines are used to help steer the load as may be required for a particular application.  

System Organization:  

Advanced operations rely heavily on the experience of the leader and the rescue members involved. Each member must be able to execute his assigned task quickly with a minimal amount of leader intervention. The tyrolean system may not be a useful alternative evacuation route if it requires 10 people and 5 hours to construct.  

 Establishing the First Line:

After locating the best tyrolean site, the second problem is to connect the two sides by at least one rope which can be utilized to move ropes and additional equipment between the two stations. Since establishment of a tyrolean can take considerable time, rescue teams should be dispatched to establish the tyrolean in advance of its need. Establishing the first line may be accomplished through the use of a line gun, a toss line, a "rock with string attached" or a strong swimmer. It may be necessary to pass the initial line across at one location and then walk the lines to their needed location. This step may require some imagination.  

The team maintains a small line gun which propels a weighted projectile and up to 300 ft of nylon cord from a line reel using a .22 caliber magnum blank load. The line gun is capable of propelling the projectile the full 300 ft in a nearly straight path. Weather and wind conditions will effect the operation of the line gun. The line gun is quite efficient for its size and weight.  

As with any firearm, extreme caution should be used whenever the line gun is to be used. The gun contains a single chamber that is manually loaded with a single round similar in fashion to a stud gun used in construction. The line is tied to the projectile (good idea). The reel and projectile are mounted onto the line gun. Slotted screw holes hold the reel onto the line gun during firing. With arms straight and sighting along the length of the line gun, the operator depresses the trigger lever to fire the round. It is advisable to utilize hearing protection when firing the line gun. Several tries may be required to make the proper placement. Additional lines and projectiles kept ready to be used will facilitate the speed of retries. Reels can be rewound immediately by hand for additional retries. It is not uncommon to stick lines and projectiles in heavy brush.  

After a proper line placement, the small nylon cord should be tied to one end of a rescue line. The rescue line should then be pulled across. This rescue line should be utilized to pull subsequent lines across. This reduces the stress on the small nylon cord as typically several rescue lines will need to be pulled across.   

Many other systems have been used to make the initial traverse. Throw lines, similar to the type used by lifeguards, is applicable if the traverse is not too far. Bow and arrow devices have been employed, however the equipment is difficult to pack and control. "Wrist rocket" type sling shots have reportedly been utilized with success.  

Parachute cord with large fishing weights (3-4 oz) have been propelled by first swinging the weights in a large circle around one's body (a 12-20 ft radius is not uncommon.) Releasing the line at the proper time has propelled 300 ft of parachute with acceptable accuracy.  

Tyrolean Lines:  

After the initial line traverse and after the appropriate gear has been located at each station, the tyrolean lines need to be established. Tyroleans are always employed with a primary and secondary line as a belay. In reality the load is equally shared by both lines but either line must be able to maintain the load in the event of a failure in the opposite line.  

The two lines should be different colors if possible. Different colors helps to easily identify the different lines. The tyrolean lines should be placed with a separation of approximately 1 foot. The fixed side of the tyrolean should be secured to the anchors with figure 8 on a byte knots or the equivalent. After the two tyrolean lines are established, they are tensioned to the proper level for the given application. The proper tension is a compromise between the force that will be placed on the anchors and the amount of sag that is allowable in the tyrolean lines. The strength and type of anchors utilized determine the allowable force that may be applied to them. A considerable safety factor should be utilized. (for example: if the worst case expected force being applied to an anchor is 1,000 lbs, the strength of the anchor should have a 25 to 50% higher strength of 1,250 to 1500 lbs.). The amount of tolerable sag is determined by the obstacle that must be traversed and the amount of work a team on one side of the tyrolean is willing to provide to compensate for the sag. Remember the obstacle must still be avoided in the event of a single tyrolean line failure.)  

Tyrolean Line Tensioning:  

The tyrolean lines may be tensioned by mechanical advantage systems or by manual (1:1) traction. A power winch or mechanical advantage systems greater than 3:1 should never be applied to tension a rope for a tyrolean application. Tyrolean lines should not be tensioned to static loads greater than 1000 lbs. This is an indication that the compromise between the maximum sag and the allowable anchor force will not be met. Either another site should be selected, higher endpoint anchors should be located, additional supports such as tri-pods or "A" frames should be used, or a cable tyrolean with proper anchors should be attempted. Both lines should be tensioned on the tensioning side of the tyrolean. The final lock-off device for each tyrolean line should be a combination of three prussiks. The lock-off prussiks may be applied passively or actively as is shown in figure-4. When applying the three prussiks advance all three Prussiks forward as much as possible and then slowly release the tensioning system to allow the load to be taken by the prussiks. The load will be distributed (unequally) to the three prussiks. The free end of the tyrolean should have a figure 8 on a byte tied and secured to an anchor as a backup safety for the lock-off prussiks. This anchor should preferably be an independent anchor if available. The backup safety should have a 6 to 8 foot service loop as is shown in figure-5.

Tyrolean lines should not be left in a tensioned state if their service is not needed in the near future. A system shown in figure-6 may be used to release or provide tension on both tyrolean lines simultaneously. At times it is necessary to release or tension lines during a tyrolean operation. Whenever possible a tyrolean line monitor should be assigned to detect problems that may occur during operation.

In some applications it is useful to have the tyrolean lines slack while the endpoints are surmounted and the lines taut during the traverse. This of course requires more coordination than the basic tyrolean, but is not out of the scope of practice for a well trained SAR team. This technique can best be implemented by tensioning or slacking both tyrolean lines simultaneously. This however is not a requirement. An application for this type of operation becomes more evident when a tyrolean is used to augment a vertical evacuation.

Load Attachment:  

A pulley attached to each tyrolean line is the point of attachment for the load. A short length of webbing should be included as shown in figure-7 to allow for a means of cutting oneself free of the tyrolean if the need arises. The load can be equipment, a single (or multiple) person in a sit harness, or a litter. A litter is typically secured using the 4 point pre-rig harness.  

A Tyrolean Plate (also commonly referred to as a Brenner Plate) simplifies the attachment of any load to the tyrolean lines. The tyrolean plate requires the use of four pulleys to balance the load properly. The tyrolean plate provides attachment points for haul lines, pulley attachments, and load attachments. One major attribute of the tyrolean plate is that it helps to keep the tyrolean load attachment point neat and organized. The tyrolean plate is shown in figure-8. The plate's usefulness becomes more apparent when the tyrolean is adapted into a flying crane operation.  (later in this chapter).

Hauling and Belaying With A Tyrolean:

A belay and main line from both sides of the tyrolean are connected to the load attachment device (litter, sit harness, etc.). Based on the operation leader's assessment in purely horizontal applications, the system may be operated without belay lines. (In reality the belay function is being assigned to the tyrolean lines. This is however discouraged.) An exploded view of the load attachment with haul and belay lines is included in figure-9. The belay and main (lowering or hauling systems must utilize their own separate anchors.  

If the tyrolean is being used to ferry rescuers from one side to another, the haul system may be the rescuer pulling himself along in a hand over hand fashion. If considerable uphill exists in the tyrolean, the self propelled rescuer may elect to utilize a Gibbs (or other ascender) to assist in the traverse. If sufficient angle exists the rescuer may require two ascenders which would be utilized in a fashion similar to ascending a vertical rope. If ascending is required, both ascenders should be placed on the primary line with a back up ascender connected to the secondary line. The rescuer would still be connected to the tyrolean line through the standard load attachment device. An ascender may be added to the secondary line if the rescuer chooses the extra support.  

Tag Lines:  

Tag lines are additional support lines utilized to steer, direct or assist in hauling a load across a tyrolean. (Actually the definition applies to any system, not just to tyroleans.) Tag lines may be connected wherever they are required. Use of too many tag lines creates a difficult cluttered system to operate, which may impede speed. In tyrolean operations utilizing a litter, the tag lines are typically attached to the foot and head of the litter. Litter attachments for the tag lines should be similar to the low angle litter attachment.  

In some applications the tag lines may operate as the main lines. This is a judgment call to be made by the unit leader of the operation. Due to the number of options available, there are multiple safe solutions to the tyrolean problem.  

Formal Check of the Tyrolean Before Use:  

As is the case with any complex operation, the operation should be double checked in theory and by testing prior to its deployment. The team leader may elect to utilize a note pad to track the various aspects of the system. A briefing should be held to confirm that each member knows and understands his assignment. Members on the opposite side should be briefed through the radio as is required. The command post or IC station should be advised when the station is ready for use. Operational stations should be addressed by functional names and not by call sign. ("North Side Hauling Team" rather than Rescue XX). A simulated load of the same anticipated weight as that to be used in the actual system should be placed on the tyrolean lines and the system should be exercised. Any necessary adjustments can then be made. The load attachment should be ready on the side that it will be needed first. Each member should remain at his station unless he is released by the team leader. Any changes in the status or operation of the system should be relayed to the command post as they occur.

Artificially Supported Endpoints:  

At times the natural endpoints of a tyrolean will not provide the necessary "high" anchors that are required to accomplish the tyrolean in a safe manner. If alternate nearby anchors do not provide the height, props, such as lashed tripods or "A" frames should be used to "lift" the tyrolean lines to the proper safe height. This application can be justified in an evacuation across a swollen river, where the river is already overflowing the high points of the river banks and all the surrounding terrain is basically flat. The application is depicted in figure-10.  

Some Tyrolean Physics:  

The rescuer is certainly not expected to bring strain gauges or calculators into the field whenever a tyrolean is expected. However the unit leader must understand the forces and parameters that are involved with a suspended tyrolean application. The above stated guidelines should preclude any problems. 

The rescue rope acts as a non-linear spring. The spring force is somewhat proportional to the amount the rope has been stretched. It is also affected by the time the rope has been stretched and how far the rope has been stretched in the immediate past. As the rope is stretched beyond certain points some short term elasticity is lost and the spring force decreases. As stretch increases, the force required for additional stretch becomes greater and the rope becomes basically a fixed length.  

The force applied to the primary and secondary anchors is of the greatest concern. The force is dependent on the downward angle of the tyrolean lines. (See figure-11. 0 is the departure angle defined in figure-2.) The equation that defines this force is:

The following are some tabulated anchor load calculations for dual line tyroleans with a 200 lb rescue load. 

at Center




Force =





















Summary of Rules Governing Tyrolean Systems:

  1. Understand the physics involved.

  2. Keep the endpoints high.

  3. Minimize the load weight.

  1. Use a tender only if necessary.

  2. Use a light tender if one is necessary.

  3. Minimize extra gear.

  1. Pretension lines only the amount that is necessary to clear obstacles. Never place more than 1000 lbs static tension (no load) on a tyrolean line. If this amount of tension is required, then the system must be re-evaluated and changed accordingly. Release tension on tyrolean lines if use is not expected within the next 15 min. 

  2. Test the system with a simulated load prior to actual use. 

  3. Tyrolean lines should have redundant anchors.

  4. When tensioned, the tyrolean lines should be fastened on the tensioning side with 3 soft ascenders as is shown in figure-4. In addition the tyrolean lines should be tied in a safety knot and secured to a redundant anchor in the event the soft ascenders fail. 

Tyrolean Assist:  

The Tyrolean Assist is a rope technique which, when used to augment a given evacuation system, allows the load to follow an alternate path other than that which is created by natural forces such as gravity (i.e.. an alternative to the vertical or straight up and down rescues).  

The tyrolean assist is not a stand alone system but is rather used to augment the operation of other systems. The assist is basically extending the tyrolean beyond its typical operation.  

In the high angle application the assist can be used to avoid obstacles such as rock outcroppings, trees, cactus, etc. The assist also moves the subject away from the wall and any possible falling debris. The high angle application is the easiest to visualize and depict in a drawing and accompanying text. However the tyrolean assist is applicable to low angle and cliff hanger situations as well. (This should not be construed to mean that the assist should be used with all systems. It certainly depends on the given situation.). The tyrolean assist can even be utilized to help walk a subject up a slope by providing a hand rail or a safety line which can be connected to the subject via a prussik, Gibbs, or biner. (Some other rescue associations refer to this hand rail technique as a "tag" line. This should not be confused with tag lines utilized elsewhere.)

In the cliff hanger situation the assist can be utilized to escort the subject through the path of least terror. See figure-12.

In figure-13, the first rescuer (R1) would take the direct rappel route to the subject taking along one end of each of the assist lines. (Primary and Secondary lines as in the basic tyrolean.) Upon reaching the subject R1 would secure the subject and then assess the subject for any additional injuries. R1 would then anchor the assist lines to two separate nearby handy anchors. ( Review SEA 's) After tensioning the assist lines, a second rescuer (R2) could be lowered along the assist lines with the necessary extrication gear. R2 and R1 would then ready the subject for transportation to the top.  

Note: By using one or two rescuers on the haul system and one rescuer on the belay system, the whole rescue could be achieved with only four to five rescuers. If the path of least terror were significantly "flatter," possibly the cliff hanger situation could be transformed into an assisted walkout. (Remember to keep physical contact with the subject during the walkouts - watch for any changes in the patient's condition.)  

In the low angle situation a very useful application would be a snow slope evacuation where a traverse is required in addition to a raising system. Figure-14 contains a map section depicting a candidate area.  

As is shown in figure-14 the haul station is located in a flat "safe" area rather than above a snow covered cliff. The assist lines can also be utilized in the handrail fashion to allow rescuers to ferry patient support equipment. (i.e. Miller board, O2, Hot Chocolate) In a long slope snow evacuation it may be necessary to utilize multiple assist lines and raising stations to accommodate the given terrain.  

The tyrolean assist is a useful tool if it's use is justified. The benefits are patient safety and reduction of risk for rescuer and subject. The price is a requirement of additional equipment and set-up time. The operations leader at the rescue scene must foresee the need for assist lines and provide for its construction as soon as possible. (It is essential, and a prime task of the operations leader to arrange as many aspects of the rescue in parallel to reduce the execution time of the complete rescue. As has been mentioned earlier, the success of the operation relies on each member executing his assignment in an expeditious and sure manner.  

As is the case with the tyrolean the actual traverse is elementary with respect to surmounting the endpoints. By selecting anchors above and beyond the load and exit points, the endpoint problem can be minimized.  

The Flying Crane Operation:

A derivative of the basic tyrolean, the Flying Crane System, is utilized to strategically locate a vertical rescue system (raise and lower) directly over a vertical shaft or opening, when a classic wall type system is not supported due to unstable rock or sand walls, vegetation, waterfalls, combinations of unmanageable caverns or other such unwieldy terrain. An example is shown in figure-15. In this case the injured subject is located on a rock in the middle of a raging river. In this area, the river is approximately 100 ft wide and is skirted on both sides of the river by vertical walls 120 ft high. The system of choice in this situation is the flying crane. A tyrolean will be established across the top of the two cliffs on both sides of the river. A rescuer with litter will traverse to a spot on the tyrolean directly above the subject on the rock below. The horizontal control lines will be locked to secure the horizontal position on the tyrolean. A redundant set of vertical control lines are then utilized to lower the rescuer to the subject. When required the rescuer is raised back to the tyrolean attachment point, where the horizontal control lines are then engaged to traverse the load back to the top of one cliff. The same theory is applied in smaller dimensions to an evacuation from a vertical mine shaft when the dangers inherent with an unstable shaft wall are present. Figure-16 shows a possible mine shaft entrance application.  

Horizontal Control Lines:  

The horizontal control lines are the same as the ones used in the standard tyrolean.  It is however mandatory that a minimum of one horizontal control line be attached to both sides of the tyrolean.  This provides a mechanization to "Lock" the horizontal position by placing tension from both sides of the tyrolean after the proper position is found. If considerable uphill hauling is involved a belay and a main haul should be used on the uphill side. Again the number of lines to be used on each side is a judgment call. Minimizing the number of lines reduces the complexity and confusion.  Expedient and safe evacuation is the goal.

Vertical Control Lines:  

The vertical control lines are depicted in figure-17. There are always two vertical control lines. The lines are Vertical Main and Vertical Belay. Note in figure-17 that the main is connected in a manner that provides an additional 2:1 mechanical advantage when the Vertical Main is used to raise the rescue load. The 2:1 combination has the disadvantage of requiring long rope lengths. The advantage is that the 2:1 has a stabilizing effect during raising operation which helps to eliminate swaying. 

Load Attachment:

The load attachment for the flying crane is more restrictive than the attachment used for the basic tyrolean. The tender must be able to unlock and enable the vertical control lines to allow the litter to move away from the tyrolean plate. The system described here utilizes the tyrolean (Brenner's) plate. The system can be fashioned in a provisionary mode utilizing webbing, biners, and pulleys. Extreme caution is needed to prevent a "RATS NEST. " Two individual webbing runners approximately 1 ft long, each with two locking biners provide the carriage attachment. As is shown in figure-18, the load connection between the load and the tyrolean plate for normal horizontal movement is the two 1 ft runners. The lower pulley attachment of the vertical main is always attached to the rescue load. The vertical belay is also always attached to the rescue load. (Since the vertical belay is always attached to the load, in some applications the operations leader may utilize it as a horizontal belay line during horizontal operation.)   

When the proper horizontal position is found, the horizontal position is locked by placing moderate tension in opposing directions from both sides of the tyrolean. Tension is placed on the vertical main and belay to remove tension from the two carriage runners. This places the entire rescue load on the vertical control lines. However, since at this time the tyrolean is providing a change of direction, the same load remains on the tyrolean line regardless of the vertical position. By lowering the vertical main the rescue load may be lowered. Note: The carriage runners should be removed from the tyrolean plate side of the attachment. Figure-19 depicts a side view of the flying crane operation.  

Command and Control:

Needless to say, the flying crane operation requires an enormous quantity of management and cooperation. Each station must execute their task with expediency. It is important to advise the field manager or operation leader of any status change. Each team should be able to anticipate the operation and have as much equipment prepared in advance as is possible. Each station should be referred to by their assigned task (i.e., "fixed side station, tensioning side station, vertical control station, etc.). Lines should be referred to by their use. Use of an assistant field manager is advisable. This system, as with any rescue system requires team leaders and members to periodically review in theory and in practice to provide an expedient and safe operation. It is important that the leader of each station anticipate the upcoming requirements for both normal and emergency conditions to limit system wait time.   

Rappelling From The Flying Crane:  

A special condition may exist, where it is necessary to lower rescuers to a sight from the flying crane. In this case it is possible that the rescuer could rappel from the flying crane. This may allow for faster ingress of rescuers to a site.  

Multiple Main Line Systems:  

Although a rare instance, multiple main lowering / raising lines may be needed to steer rescuers and victims around given obstacles. This is typically needed in waterfall evacuations. The operations leader should be aware of the use of multiple main lines if the need arises. 


Ventura County Sheriff's Volunteer Search & Rescue  |  Fillmore Mountain Rescue  |  Team 1
Mailing Address:  P.O. Box 296 |  Fillmore, CA  93016
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