AN experienced caver who drowned while on an expedition in North Yorkshire had helped save countless colleagues.

Stuart Goodwill died in the Alum Pot cave system, near Selside, in the Yorkshire Dales, on December 27.

But Mr Goodwill, 33, of Darlington, will leave a legacy to the caving community, after helping to develop a piece of safety equipment.

His close friend and caving colleague, Les Sykes, said Mr Goodwill had improved the safety of one of his favourite pursuits.

He said during the Eighties as many as 50 cavers every year were falling during expeditions because of their equipment.

Cavers decided to build a stronger form of "anchor" to put up in caves. The piece of equipment helps cavers hang safely from walls.

When they were designed, the community had nowhere to test them until Mr Goodwill, a mechanical and electrical engineer, designed a test rig.

He was on a degree course at Lancaster University and built the rig, which could test angles between 0 and 90 degrees.

Mr Sykes said: "We had developed a revolutionary new method of making caving safer by gluing anchors into the cave wall. Previously, we had used anchors with integral wedges to hang our ropes from, but these had started to degrade and there had been a number of very serious injuries due to anchors failing.

This has made caving very safe, not just here but worldwide."

The rigging was tested by Manchester- based firm Hilti, an anchor field-testing department, which found it exceeded even industrial standards.

Mr Sykes said: "Stuart was a very good friend and a very competent caver. He was also a climber. He enjoyed the outdoors and enjoyed life.

"It was a tragic accident. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We have not just lost a good friend, we have lost a good engineer."

Mr Goodwill's caving companion, Caroline Jane Fletcher, 28, of Riddlesden, Keighley, West Yorkshire, also died in the accident.

Their bodies were found at 3.20am the following day after a three-hour search by police and the Cave Rescue Organisation.

The alarm was raised by Mr Goodwill's wife, when he failed to return home.

Mr Goodwill was originally from Haydock, but moved to Darlington three years ago when he and Claire married. His funeral took place in Haydock, on Thursday.