The successful rescue of the young soccer team that was trapped in a Thai cave is the feel-good news story that we all needed.
But the fear that these kids went through is somewhat relatable to B.C. resident Andrew Munoz.
His incredible story is the subject of this week’s episode of Global News’ original podcast, This is Why.
Dec. 5, 2015, was just like any other day for Munoz and his friends as they set out to explore Cascade, a remote cave system on Vancouver Island.
Exploring the narrow passages was nothing new for Munoz, an experienced caver and paramedic.
As they made their way approximately 340 feet underground, past a waterfall aptly named “Double Trouble,” they continued to “Bastard’s Crawl,” a narrow passageway that has a heavy stream of water passing through it.
Having concluded that they would keep going, one by one, they squeezed through the tight space as the water rushed over them.
It was at this point that things took a turn for the worst.
WATCH FULL VIDEO: Caving in Cascade — A Story of Survival
Jason Storie, a close friend of Munoz, got stuck and couldn’t make it through the narrow passage. The pressure of the water had sucked him in and the water was building up around him.
“That’s when I heard Jason yell out. It was a cry like a guttural, primal kind of fear,” Munoz said.
Munoz knew the seriousness of the situation. The cold water could have caused Storie to go into a state of shock and if he managed to make it through, the pressure of the water could have sent him over another waterfall that was just 16 feet away.
“I was very worried that he wasn’t going to make it. I thought that he was going to get trapped in there and we were going to be trapped behind his dead body,” Munoz said.
Just when it looked like Storie had made it through, his leg became trapped. Having been underwater for almost 25 minutes, Munoz helped tie a rope around his boot to pry his leg out.
Both exhausted, they could finally take a moment to breathe.
The immediate threat was over but now they were still trapped in the cave, unable to make it back through the crawl-space.
“He wasn’t shivering which is physiologically a bad sign. It means that he has progressed past the first stage of hypothermia to where his muscles can’t shiver to create energy to warm him,” Munoz said.
His helmet-mounted camera had been running the whole time.
Munoz relayed a message to the rest of his friends to go for help and knew that he and Storie wouldn’t be making it out of the cave that night.
“You’re feeling multiple emotions simultaneously. … It’s dark, cold and incredibly loud. You start to experience delusions and see faces in the dark,” Munoz said.
Munoz contemplated recording a goodbye message to his infant daughter but felt it would be an admission that he was giving up.
Throughout the night, Munoz monitored the water levels for an opportunity to get back out.
At 6:30 a.m. the following morning, the water pressure had started to subside and they decided they would attempt to get out, knowing that they would only have one shot.
If Storie was to get stuck this time, there would be nobody to help him on the other side.
They slowly squeezed through.
“It felt like it was over. … We felt like we had done it,” Munoz said.
The pair made their way to the surface, passing the equipment left behind by rescuers that had attempted to reach them throughout the night.
When they made it to the surface, the rescue team rushed to help them.
“We felt that. When the first videos emerged from Thailand of the U.K. diver coming through and seeing those boys sitting on the beach … you’re in disbelief of how good they look and how calm everything is in that moment.”
There was disbelief among the rescuers, many of them saying that they had brought bone-saws to help remove their bodies from the cave system.
After six weeks and with the help of counselling sessions, Munoz sat down to watch his camera footage for the first time.
Looking back on the incident, Munoz takes solace in knowing the footage is being used to help train first responders.
In fact, both he and Storie have since returned to the cave system, conquering their fears and making it back to spot where their 18-hour ordeal began.
John O’Dowd is a co-producer on This is Why.
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