Caving — it’s an outdoor activity that allows humans to explore places not yet discovered on Earth.
And its risks are in the spotlight now as 12 boys aged from 11 to 16 years old, and their 25-year-old soccer coach, find themselves trapped in a cave in Thailand, wondering when they can be rescued.
Coverage of the Thai boys trapped in a cave on Globalnews.ca:
They’re in a precarious position — they’re at the mercy of the weather, leaving them with no certainty about when they’ll come out of the cave.
It might be months before they’re free of the darkness; they may need to be trained to scuba dive before they can escape.
There’s at least one diver who thinks the boys can be trained, and other experienced cavers with plenty of warning for what to do, should you decide to plunge into the unknown.
On Tuesday, Thai Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda floated the possibility that the boys and their coach might have to dive out of the cave before bad weather sets in later in the week.
This may seem a tall task. But for Greg McCracken, dive master with the Ocean Quest Dive Centre in Burnaby, B.C., there is a chance that they could make it happen.
“The number one thing you would need people to do is have a general comfort level in the water,” he told Global News.
“I understand some of the young kids haven’t learned how to swim before, that could mean they’ll be a bit more timid about things.”
The divers rescuing the kids have a few options before them: they could use full-face masks, they could use a mask and a separate breathing apparatus, or they could even use helmets with air supplied from the surface.
But is it realistic that these boys could dive out of the depths?
“I think it could be,” McCracken said.
“The rescue divers would really take control over everything, so as long as they had an air supply, the rescue divers can even literally tow them along.”
But how much air supply they need is another question. The boys travelled about two kilometres into the cave — a “great distance,” McCracken said — and to breathe for that long, they’ll need more than just two or three cylinders.
“They’re going to have to look at staging cylinders, and doing all sorts of things just to get to the distance, just for the rescue divers.”
And what of training the boys to dive?
McCracken said you can learn all the elements of safe diving within about four days — but that’s usually in a pool, with practising happening in shallow depths before transitioning to open water.
They also won’t have any background theory, which you obtain through “videos, manuals” and homework you do before you even start your four-day training.
The boys can, however, be introduced to the elements of safe diving.
“With full face masks, it probably takes a lot of the risks out anyway,” McCracken said.
“If they’re going to any depths, they’ll have to learn how to equalize their ears, but that’s something that could be easily taught.
“Aside from that, as long as they can stay relaxed, understand they’re taken care of, I think they should be OK.”
For Myles Fullmer, guiding manager at Horne Lake Caves in Qualicum Beach, B.C., it’s important not to rush matters when you’re stuck in a cave.
“Rushing anything in a cave can lead to disaster,” he said.
Fullmer said it’s entirely likely that the kids could spend months down in the cave, with people supplying them with food and comfort items until the weather dries up.
He said officials are making a difficult decision on whether to have them dive or just wait it out.
Thailand’s rainy season can last up to October.
“If they could stay patient and hopefully they’ll come out and everyone will be OK,” Fullmer said.
For Canadians who have been involved in cave rescues, there’s plenty to warn people about.
If you ask Doug Munroe, recreational caving is not “intrinsically more dangerous” than other wilderness pursuits.
“You’re no more likely to fall or sprain your ankle or otherwise injure yourself caving than you are in any other kind of wilderness setting,” the B.C. provincial coordinator with the Alberta/BC Cave Rescue Service told Global News.
It’s when something does go wrong that there’s reason for worry, he said.
“If you are injured, there is no cell phone service and there’s no helicopters coming to get you,” Munroe said.
“There’s no satellite beacons or anything like that.
“It’s really, in terms of rescue, going back to the early 19th century.”
One of Munroe’s most challenging rescues was one that bore some similarity to the situation now unfolding in Thailand.
WATCH: Children trapped in cave seen greeting and talking to Thai rescue diver
It saw two people out of a group of five become trapped behind floodwaters in a cave near Port Alberni.
When the group initially went in, they noticed high water but “didn’t think anything of it,” Munroe said.
Then, on the way out, they found a 20-foot-long passage that sloped at a 45-degree angle.
The passage filled with water — three people managed to leave the cave but the fourth member, a novice caver, became stuck in the passage and immersed in cold water for a minute or two.
The fifth member of the group managed to free his friend from the passage, but they couldn’t leave with the water rising.
They ended up staying down in the cave for 14 hours until the water receded, and made it out themselves — though rescuers were standing by.
The key for this pair? The more experienced cave diver came prepared with a stove, blankets and plenty more.
“They had everything they needed to keep themselves safe and warm,” Munroe said.
He recommended that anyone interested in cave diving have a trip plan, to let someone know where you’re going, and how long you’ll be gone.
“That’s really your only safety if something goes terribly wrong,” he said.