Jonah (Howard Rothwell)
Red Rose - Northern Exploration Group

Chris Baxter writes:

Sadly, Jonah (Howard Rothwell) was drowned in Lancaster Hole on Sunday 12th November 2000. Exactly what happened isn’t known. Jonah and Mike Deft were on a short tourist trip on a wet Sunday. The trip included the option of the main streamway. On reaching the streamway (around 12 noon) the water didn’t look too high and they both stepped in. After only a few yards walking downstream, both were swept away. Mike recalls being tumbled as if in a washing machine, mostly underwater. Eventually Mike came to a halt against a rock. His helmet had been dislodged and he had taken a bad blow to the head. Mike searched for Jonah for half an hour and then exited the cave to get help.

Cavers from Red Rose were back at the scene by 2.30pm, CRO by 3.30pm. Jack Pickup (CRO chief controller) went underground himself. The search was called off due to rising water levels at 11.00pm. On Monday 13th two CRO teams searched from 10.00am till 4.00pm at which time they concluded that Jonah could only be in the sump.

The weather improved and on Wednesday 15th Richard Ellwood made a solo search of the streamway. He could only arrive at the same conclusion. Jonah’s body was recovered by CRO divers on Sunday 19th November.


His funeral was held at Arkholme Church on Saturday 25th, and he is buried in the churchyard. The church was packed to overflowing with relatives, friends, workmates and fellow cavers, including several Slugs.


Jonah had been caving for 35 years and had an unrivalled reputation as a safe caver. He began his caving career with Red Rose but by the 1970s he caved with the Northern Exploration Group (NEG) - a loose bunch of the most enthusiastic cavers in the Dales - including Richard and Danny Ellwood and Johnny Wilkinson. Several members of LUSS were to become honorary members of NEG - Jack Sheldon, Spike Bagshaw, Colin Boothroyd, John Wallwork etc.. Between them they did the toughest caves in the Dales on a weekly basis.

Jonah went to Tresviso in 1975, 1978 and 1979. In 1975 he was in the teams that discovered and named The Black Hole, The Road to Ruin and The Road to Certain Death.

He will be remembered by many in SLUGS for his role in the Jes Peterson rescue. For over 36 hours CRO and fell rescue teams had failed to find Jes. Jonah asked Jack Pickup for permission to lead a small ‘freelance’ search team. Jack Pickup could hardly refuse and Jonah found Jes about an hour and a half later.

Pressures of family and professional life permitting, Jonah continued as an active caver - visiting many of the major cave systems of the UK and Europe. In 1999 with Mike and Richard he began a new challenge - to climb a country’s highest peak and descend its deepest cave in one weekend - successfully starting with Belgium.

Jonah didn’t come to Tresviso 2000 because he and Mike were booked for some serious caving in France. He did, however, send some of his original 1975 slides and his best wishes and was very pleased to see photos of the trip afterwards.

Jonah’s reputation in caving was matched by his reputation in his working life. After a false start at teacher training college he became a plumber, a member of the Chartered Institute of Heating Engineers, a company director and lately an air conditioning consultant. One of his many clients was a leading UK brewer for whom he designed the air conditioning systems for their chain of ‘theme’ pubs.


Jonah leaves his wife Vero (Veronique) and his daughters Sara and Natalie.


Condolences may be sent to:- Mrs Veronique Rothwell
(address removed)

Chris Baxter