Friday, October 15, 2010

Thoughts on Being Trapped in a Cave

My sister Dale and I waiting for rescue.

As I watched the miners being rescued  my mind turned back to that Monday in May. I've been thinking about it allot through out this whole ordeal with the Chilean miners.
What really struck me is the sunglasses they were wearing and how I wished I had sunglasses that day.

It's been what 12 or 14 years now, a beautiful May morning and a girls day out adventure. It was me, my sister Dale and Jo Anne. Jo Anne was in her 60s and her son owned the land this huge cave was on.
I had been in the cave several times and my sis and I had explored this very deep section once. We had planned to go back in and look for a passage to another even deeper section I had heard about. Jo Anne wanted to go and check it out.
All went well as we descended climbing, and crawling a half mile or so down. We enter a small room with a flow stone on one side and a small hole that is the entrance to a corkscrew like tunnel going up. I go in first as I am the most experienced spelunker. I twist my body while climbing up the rocks stuck in the clay and gravel that make up the tunnel. Twenty feet or so it opens up to a room the size of a football field strewn with rocks the size of cars and buses. The other gals crawl through with no problems. 
We all have a great time looking at formations and exploring the huge room and several others that connected to it. We were still looking for the other passage when suddenly I said "Lets go". Dale was surprised and did not like the way I said it. We still had another half hour or so before we had planned to leave. She swears that is the moment the tunnel collapsed. I don't know I just got nervous all the sudden and  felt it was time to go.

I crawled down the tunnel to find rocks had fallen and the exit was only big enough to get my hand through. I hollered at the others not to come down and waited.
Soon our spotters showed up and realized we had a BIG problem.

In Arkansas there is a group that is trained for cave rescues. I didn't know about them until that day. Our rescuers were called and we busied ourselves getting supplies in through the small hole thinking we may not have it very long. Sleeping bags were twisted up into a long small rope to fit through the hole. We carried up water, a thermos of coffee and some food. The cave rescue team sent up a walkie talkie. We settled down in our make shift camp, drank coffee, ate lunch and waited.

 We talked about what could happen if the whole tunnel goes (hoping we weren't in it at the time) and the only way out would be to drill through the mountain. Weeks or longer? There was no way of knowing how deep inside the mountain we really were.
And then there were the  news crews that were showing up outside. When we heard that we made a decision. If any reporters were on the property we weren't coming out no matter how big they made the hole. I've had my ass in a crack plenty of times but didn't really want the whole world knowing about it. They were asked to leave and did.

The walkie talkie would squawk and call us down into the tunnel. Dale and I would take turns going down and moving rocks. We would also work on the bracing they were putting in to stabilize it. It was dangerous work from our end.
We found out the mayor of a local town showed up with a pickup filled with fried chicken and pizza donated by local restaurants. There was a crowd of people outside playing Frisbee, eating and helping with any thing the rescuers needed. I wanted pizza and a couple were brought down and rolled up in the box and stuffed through the little hole. Messy but good.

After 11 hours they called  and wanted me, the smallest, to try to slide out through the log bracing. I stayed in the tunnel for about an hour until the rescue team gave me the go ahead. I carefully eased out the hole into the flow stone room.
Now I hadn't been panicky through out this whole day but stepping out of the tunnel I got freaked out.
The lights nearly blinded me, battery powered but still bright. When I could see anything at all it was a room full of people. I had trouble standing up and felt very disoriented.
I needed sunglasses. That's what made me think of this whole thing again, the sunglasses.

I could see as Jo Anne and then Dale came out, the flow stone had shifted. The whole thing.

Luckily it was almost dark by the time we got outside to see the news helicopters overhead shooting pictures.

The cave rescue team was awesome and made something which could been a disaster for us into a just another adventure.


  1. Wow. That's scary. I'm glad everything turned out well; it doesn't always.

  2. I've had scarier days....I know that's hard to imagine.