Danger from Plura to Steinugleflaget
May 9, 2016 10:26 AM   Subscribe

The cave divers who went back for their friends (BBC) In February 2014 two divers died at a depth of more than 100m in a huge cave system in Norway. Seven weeks later, their three friends went back to get their bodies.
posted by CrystalDave (55 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
This similar article was on Metafilter previously, but I can't find the post. Here's the link.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:38 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


"It's a code that no-one is left behind," he says. "You always have to do your best to get your friends out, wherever they are."

The obsession with retrieving corpses, be it from a battlefield or a cave system, usually a function of macho camaraderie, is one of the more puzzling things that transcends national cultures.

It's one thing if I was injured and thought I was being left behind by my brothers, to die or be captured by a horrible enemy.

It's quite another if I died doing something dangerous with people I loved as brothers - I would not want them to come back to collect a meat sack in uniform/technical gear - making likely that they underwent the same fate that befell me.

We need to change the culture that morally mandates this kind of low-reward Russian roulette.
posted by lalochezia at 10:39 AM on May 9, 2016 [22 favorites]


If only I had a penguin, I was just going to post that article. Here's the metafilter discussion (from 2005! that article has been embedded in my brain.)
posted by AFABulous at 10:39 AM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]




if any article ever needed a trigger warning, it's this one. But I suspect it's redundant as the words "cave diver" are basically enough. I skimmed the article for a few seconds, i felt my chest tighten and my heart rate rise and then I closed the tab.
posted by GuyZero at 10:47 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


We need to change the culture that morally mandates this kind of low-reward Russian roulette.

Don't worry, climbers are leaving bodies all over the place, so it averages out.
posted by effbot at 10:49 AM on May 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'm sure I would also question this obsessive need to go back to get the bodies, but I'm just not there yet. I'm still stuck on "Why would anyone go in there in the first place?" WHen they show that little map of the cave entrance and exit, my first thought was "How would they possibly know that?"

In the other article (the one from outside magazine) the cave is in the ocean, if I recall. I can sort of imagine diving into the ocean and coming upon a cave and maybe thinking it might be neat to go in. I guess I see why some people do that. But a random hole in the ground that happens to be filled with water and goes who knows where and you can't get out the way you came in? What's going through the mind of the first person who thinks it's a good idea to jump in there?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:50 AM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


I've read enough stories about cave diving to know that any story about retrieving bodies of cave divers ends up with more bodies stuck in the caves.

I have defended mountaineering on this very site from people saying things like "LOL THEY DESERVE IT BECAUSE THEY'RE IDIOTS!!!!" so I'm not going to judge these people for doing what they do. I imagine they get to see some amazing things and go to some amazing places but... man. I just can't see how it could be worth it.
posted by bondcliff at 10:52 AM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


I assume that the dead divers knew their friends would get them and would have done the same -- but I still think it's a bizarre choice. Once I am already dead, I do not want my loved ones to risk their lives for my corpse -- or the corpse of another loved one; I can grieve fine without seeing a body. No one is left behind is nice when you're all still alive.

Curious about this part:
Having the bodies would help the families grieve, and would also help to prevent lengthy delays to insurance and inheritance settlements.
posted by jeather at 10:53 AM on May 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


Don't worry, climbers are leaving bodies all over the place, so it averages out.

Climbers generally leave bodies only when retrieving them is impossible.
posted by bondcliff at 10:53 AM on May 9, 2016


The obsession with retrieving corpses, be it from a battlefield or a cave system, usually a function of macho camaraderie, is one of the more puzzling things that transcends national cultures.

As the article mentions, there are legal reasons for retrieving bodies regarding wills and insurance for their families, as usually when someone dies they leave a body behind to prove it, and things can get sticky when the only evidence of death is someone's word. There's also the emotional concerns of the loved ones lacking a sense of closure knowing that instead of a burial they're floating in the bottom of some cave somewhere.

I'm not saying it's wise to go back into an underwater cave that's already proven deadly, or that it was even wise to go there in the first place, but there's more to it than a sense of macho camaraderie.
posted by neonrev at 10:53 AM on May 9, 2016 [8 favorites]


There was also the fact that the bodies were physically blocking further dives:
He and his friends also knew that there was a chance that part of northern Europe's biggest wet cave system would remain closed to the sport forever if they failed.
posted by Etrigan at 11:08 AM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Etrigan just beat me to that quote. The corpses were blocking the passage. They had to get them out so that they and other people like them could continue risking their lives diving through that passage. Plus no one wants to see a cold-preserved dead body when they're wriggling through a pitch black underwater cave passage.

It's all madness.
posted by Nelson at 11:09 AM on May 9, 2016 [11 favorites]


"If we had done a practice run then, things would have been different. It was totally our own fault."

Watching your friend drown at arm's length is a bitter lesson to learn.
Perhaps a body retrieval is a way to make reparation, to kith and kin and self.
And maybe you'd die trying, and maybe you thought that would be fair, too.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:15 AM on May 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


He and his friends also knew that there was a chance that part of northern Europe's biggest wet cave system would remain closed to the sport forever if they failed.

They say that like it's a bad thing.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:20 AM on May 9, 2016 [8 favorites]


A repeat discussion of Dave Shaw's dive from 2012. Shaw's website.
posted by TedW at 11:22 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Beyond this point the cave, and nothing more.
This is as far as you were meant to be.
There’s nothing in this cave worth dying for.

The signs and every far-off voice implore,
The heart, the mind, the flattened lungs agree:
There’s nothing in this cave worth dying for.

Just airless dark. Just bones on the sea floor.
The fruitless search. Your mother on TV.
There’s nothing in this cave worth dying for.

A picture that you saw some years before,
A diver in a sea-beneath-the-sea…
There’s nothing in this cave worth dying for.

An underwater river in whose bore
Were caught the branches of a sunken tree.
There’s nothing in this cave worth dying for.

Forget the cord that tugs you to explore,
The silver voice that whispers, Come and see
The darkling wave, the glowing secret shore
.
There’s nothing in this cave worth dying for."
posted by praemunire at 11:25 AM on May 9, 2016 [23 favorites]


Act Three of Episode 515 of This American Life (Good Guys) is about a similar story of divers going to retrieve their dead buddies that occurred at Bushman's Cave in South Africa.

You know, in case you want an audio version of this noble horror.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:25 AM on May 9, 2016


Perhaps you would like to read a story that has some of the spookiness, tension and diving of actual cave diving but is actually a science fiction story - you might enjoy Into the Wreck, which for me meets some of that "reading about diving in dark waters" need without so much of the "tragic deaths" thing. It's a good story.
posted by Frowner at 11:29 AM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Must be a long ago implanted deep need to go into caves/crevasses above or below the local water line. Here in Washington we have the Big Four Ice Caves a fun source of stupid moves and dead hikers, so go figure.
posted by Freedomboy at 11:34 AM on May 9, 2016


There's a protocol for dying inside a cave. If possible, clip yourself off to a line so that your corpse is easy to locate, easy to retrieve, and doesn't drift somewhere that further endangers the recovery team. Chief above all, if you're going to die, it had better not be your own fault. Recklessness like that gets caves shut down, and you wouldn't want to do that to your fellow divers, would you?
posted by SemiSophos at 11:44 AM on May 9, 2016


I'l never understand this...when you're dead, you're dead. You become food. There is nothing magical about your body. The weird machismo and religious zeal that goes into this kind of behavior will never, ever make sense to me. It's 100% "oh, we think this way because people always have" with no rhyme or reason. Ditto goes to when someone somehow "desecrates" a corpse. It's just dead meat, people. Calm down.
posted by trackofalljades at 11:52 AM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Why do you care if people risk their own lives out of respect for their deceased comrades? As you say, they're only meat.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:01 PM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


The first step to understanding, in this instance, is to read the article where, aside from grieving, there was mention of the insurance component of all of this. (I mean, we all know insurance companies are looking out for our best interests, I'm sure "ok, my friend died in an inaccessible cave you can't get to" would be more than enough for them to approve a claim.)

Since the inability to understand why people would risk life and limb to retrieve a body for grieving purposes escapes many, think of it this way: no one asked you to fish them out. How people mourn their lost ones is entirely their business in this case. You are not required to understand and your freedoms are not being infringed.

Grieving is for the living, not the dead. Or the meat — whatever you feel is an appropriate descriptor of persons no longer alive.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:08 PM on May 9, 2016 [8 favorites]


Why do we have funerals, why do we have wakes...when you're dead, you're dead, right?

They're not for you.

And it's not about machismo. Tell a mother to leave her daughter in the deep water and you might find yourself there as well. Humans, we bond. Hopefully, anyway.
posted by effugas at 1:08 PM on May 9, 2016 [9 favorites]


Why do you care if people risk their own lives out of respect for their deceased comrades? As you say, they're only meat.

Are you being facetious? Obviously, living people are more than meat (or, at least they are meat that has functioning synapses and therefore thoughts and emotions and can love and feel love back, which is a fundamentally different thing than a dead body).

That being said, even though I'm in the "corpses are meat" camp, I can understand where the impulse to not leave someone behind comes from. I think it's stupid -- but then again, so is embalming. But people are gonna feel how they feel, and if they though it was worth risking their lives to go into the cave in the first place, it's not our place to tell them not to do it to go get the body of their loved one.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:18 PM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Are you being facetious? Obviously, living people are more than meat

Obviously they are more than that! I meant it as a sarcastic one-liner in response to trackofalljades' comment immediately above.

If, as toaj claims, a human body is nothing more than a meaningless shell, then it doesn't make sense to worry about the actions of other human bodies in response. Being that it's all just a bunch of meat chasing after other meat, after all. There, I've overexplained it.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:48 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


A human body is a meaningless shell*, but a human life is not. So it's not contradictory to think that it's a waste of human lives to go "rescue" a body, because you've got life (which is precious) chasing after something dead (which is not precious**).

*there are plenty of people who believe otherwise and that's fine, I don't mean to insult those beliefs by stating mine as fact.
**ditto.

posted by sparklemotion at 2:01 PM on May 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


But a random hole in the ground that happens to be filled with water and goes who knows where and you can't get out the way you came in? What's going through the mind of the first person who thinks it's a good idea to jump in there?

"Maybe there is gold."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:01 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I had a weird idea: maybe somebody should look into corpse recovery drones. Here's the logic:

A machine that can go onto Mount Everest/ dive into a sea cave, and then retrieve 100 kg of mass, and then return it to a more retrievable position, can also do a lot of other useful tasks.

Such as retrieving nuclear or toxic waste from coastal shores. Or ammunition from North Sea ships that were deliberately scuttled after WW2. Or scientific samples.

This is one field where I fully favor automation replacing human jobs.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 2:11 PM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


As soon as people die, we should definitely forget about their bodies. Stack 'em up out back of the hospitals and let the local wildlife feed.

Sometimes we humans do things that don't make sense if you're a fanatic materialist.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:17 PM on May 9, 2016


I don't think diving to recover bodies is any weirder than diving just to screw around. It's the diving into the deep narrow cave in the first place I find hard to wrap my head around; once it's been undertaken I don't see why "I'm doing it to recover the body of my friend" is less valid than "I'm doing it because it's there." I've been reading a lot of mountaineering books lately and I get the same feeling reading about crazy summits done via increasingly difficult routes during increasingly insane conditions.
posted by supercrayon at 2:23 PM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


As soon as people die, we should definitely forget about their bodies. Stack 'em up out back of the hospitals and let the local wildlife feed.

Yes, because there's no middle ground between this and "bodies should be retrieved at any cost, and also the bodies of the people who tried to retrieve the bodies should be retrieved at any cost" ad infinitum.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:23 PM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Supercrayon: I agree that going in in the first place is the part I find hard to understand. And while I do understand the emotional pull to retrieve a body, it does seem like doing so at the risk of ones own life is even harder for me to understand than going somewhere "because it is there" because once you're doing it to retrieve a body, you have living, breathing, proof, that where you're going is deadly. It seems like if it were me, even if I'd been inclined to go in in the first place, watching someone die would make me think twice before going again.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:27 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yes, because there's no middle ground between this and "bodies should be retrieved at any cost, and also the bodies of the people who tried to retrieve the bodies should be retrieved at any cost" ad infinitum.

You did see the comment above where the dead were called "just meat", right? That's what I was replying to.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:38 PM on May 9, 2016


I just want to assure everybody here that none of you are ever going to be forced to recover a body in an underwater cave. Even if somebody says "well, but the Finns do it" you can still say no
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:43 PM on May 9, 2016 [21 favorites]


I just want to assure everybody here that none of you are ever going to be forced to recover a body in an underwater cave.

Clearly you haven't read enough dystopian YA novels as this is the plot of the 24th Maze Runner book.
posted by GuyZero at 2:46 PM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's not just the risk of your own death, it's the risk you create for anyone who may then attempt to rescue you, and the emergency-response resources you waste. I don't really have a problem with people without dependents choosing to risk their life for something, but, regardless of how it's perceived, rarely is dying in some horrible daredevil stunt a purely solo activity.
posted by praemunire at 3:04 PM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


the TAL episode sparklemotion mentioned was the first thing I thought of, too. it really affected me.
posted by changeling at 3:08 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is well written and covers a sort of camaraderie and risk taking that is key to species survival. It is noble to retrieve the lost, their friends may love them one more time, in holy respect. Their comrades may then let them go and also grieve. It is a solid ending, the Viking funeral of this age. Best to them all.
posted by Oyéah at 3:39 PM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


We retrieve the bodies to make sure that postmortem can be performed, so that we know what went wrong so that we can modify our techniques and training, and because it is gross to swim by the bodies of your friends every weekend.

Pretty basic stuff. Not a lot of bravado there.
posted by pdoege at 5:26 PM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


I enjoy meat. However, I only bob for apples.
posted by breadbox at 6:06 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the post-mort & published accident report can go a long way to keeping similar accidents from happening if it helps to educate. The NSS American Caving Accidents is a (semi?) annual publication that rounds up all caving related incidents that the editors can collect. Most of the regular caving (as in not underwater) incident reports are non-fatal, though some of them describe huge endeavors to rescue trapped or injured people form miles underground, & there is much to be learned for carefully assessing the accident's causes and the response. Some rescues are swift, speedy and efficient, others are chaotic & troublesome. They need to be collated & studied.

There are usually 50-60 incident reports in a journal, and amongst those, there are 2 or 3 cave diving incidents a year, usually fatal. How a person died can usually be ascertained from evidence at the scene, or by autopsy & dismantling the gear after it's been brought to the surface. For an endeavor as dangerous as cave diving (hint: don't do it) every iota of information is useful. The usual causes are confusion caused by silt-outs, becoming separated from the dive line & lost, nitrogen narcosis which can lead to poor decision-making, pushing beyond your air supply safety margin (turn back at two-thirds is the general rule, I think?) and occasionally though not usually, getting stuck in tight passage, or good old equipment failure. Every case is unique though and there's always something to be learned.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:56 PM on May 9, 2016 [8 favorites]


Gee, here I was thinking it's nice that they'd go back to get the bodies of the people they care about. I understand it being hard to relate to, but I wonder what it's like to live in a world where we can fail to relate to or understand someone's motivations without making it into a deep values statement about what's wrong with society.
posted by teponaztli at 8:29 PM on May 9, 2016 [5 favorites]


I grew up (and still live) close to Florida's Vortex Spring. I've seen too many local news videos of diver's bodies being brought out of the water there to ever have taken any interest in cave diving.

The mysterious case of Ben McDaniel, who may (or may not) have died there in 2010 generated a good bit of media attention. The linked article (from the Tampa Bay Times) is a fascinating read and touches on some of the questions about rescue/recovery brought out in this thread.

Also, a couple of weeks ago, a Russian diver had a very close call there.
posted by TwoToneRow at 10:47 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


For a description of the world of cave diving that hovers consistently somewhere between horrifying and alluring, Blind Descent is pretty hard to beat. It's a chronicle of the teams trying to reach the bottom of the world -- the deepest spot -- which turns out to be somewhere beneath Abkhazia (at least as of the book's writing). You get there through a seemingly endless series of dives through cold dark sumps at the bottoms of deep shafts. And then there you are: In a small muddy room, in the deep dark. Still -- there's grandeur in the absurdity. The sense of an alien world beneath our feet -- both in the Abkhazian caves and in the roaring jungle river caves of southern Mexico that the author also describes -- is haunting.

I've not come close, though I think of the one time I've entered a wild cave in one place and emerged from another entrance after a long squeeze below ground. It was transporting, unexpectedly so, to find that that world (deep runnels of rock, strange voids) could somehow lead me through back to an ordinary California day somewhere other than where I'd started.
posted by SandCounty at 10:55 PM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


Cave diving accidents and rescues are squarely within my frisson zone and I will read as many stories about them as the internet will provide me with. I would never ever want to do it myself but I understand that there will always be people (mostly male) who do.

I'm finding the "why not just leave them there? I don't care what happens to my meat!" comments bewildering, though. It's not about the dead, it's about the living. As effugas said, if your closest friend, your child, your partner were down there, I doubt you'd be all "meh, whatevs, at least I'll always know where they are".
posted by stuck on an island at 4:51 AM on May 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


This made me think of a book I read in my early teens by Colin Thiele called Chadwick's Chimney. I haven't read it since because it scared the everloving crap out of me. But if you like reading about cave diving, it'd be worth a look.
posted by kjs4 at 5:45 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


I just want to assure everybody here that none of you are ever going to be forced to recover a body in an underwater cave.

Thank fucking god because fuck that shit.
posted by josher71 at 1:37 PM on May 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


if your closest friend, your child, your partner were down there, I doubt you'd be all "meh, whatevs, at least I'll always know where they are".

There's literally nothing that has been said in this thread to support this "doubt" so why would you even posit it? For some folks, the body of a loved one is just that, a body, and risking someone's life to get a body seems silly on it's face.

That being said, I facepalmed when I realized that I hadn't considered the importance of autopsies and other incident reports to help understand why the accident happened. As someone who believes that all human bodies should be used for organs then science before disposal*, I can see why it would be worth it to retrieve the body for the purpose of trying to reduce the likelihood of future accidents. When you tack on the fact that some folks may have an emotional connection to the body as well, the actions of the folks in these stories starts to make a lot more sense to me.

*this will never be something that could be mandated, and I don't encourage trying to force anyone to do it
posted by sparklemotion at 1:58 PM on May 10, 2016


That being said, I facepalmed when I realized that I hadn't considered the importance of autopsies and other incident reports to help understand why the accident happened.

I also hadn't considered autopsies etc. but I had the opposite reaction when I read that point. I was thinking: I know what caused the accident. People went hundreds of feet underground and underwater where pressure was high and spaces were tight and with equipment that would kill them if they didn't breathe slowly enough. The way to avoid such accidents is pretty obvious to me, too, and if you hand over the tens of thousands of dollars (at least) that a coronor's inquest costs, I'll be happy to provide a simple and effective solution.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:03 PM on May 10, 2016


But... these are people who were trained to use the equipment and to know how slowly to breathe. Something still went wrong.

I'm assuming that your "obvious" solution means "don't dive in dangerous conditions." But for one, you can't force people not to take risks. And for two, there are plenty of people who dive in those conditions for reasons other than just the thrill or whatever, be it for science or profit, or to rescue someone out of a situation that wasn't supposed to be that dangerous.

Even if you think that "joy riders" deserve what they get (which...ouch?), it seems a little callous not to want to make things safer for other folks.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:20 PM on May 10, 2016


I do not think anyone got what they deserved. I am opposed to death, even for reckless people. But yes, I think it's reckless to be diving in these places, and it is precisely to make things safer for them, that I think they'd be better off staying out.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:46 PM on May 10, 2016


In this case they had expert, third party testimony on the precise location and condition of the bodies, and if these men had insurance that would pay at all for a death like this (which I think most would not) then surely that insurance would have had a known path to establish death. I think the journalist fell down a bit on that piece of reporting. On the other hand they did make it pretty clear that there were strong cultural factors at play. The other thing that the author made clear was that there was a much much safer way to do a dive like this -- with a large support team, many resources, the artificial air pockets the rescue team created, etc. The original divers did not take those precautions. That both makes me feel better about the rescue, and... makes the original divers seem a bit more macho (in a negative sense).
posted by Salamandrous at 5:03 AM on May 12, 2016


Salamandrous: "if these men had insurance that would pay at all for a death like this (which I think most would not)"

Why wouldn't they as long as they declared their activity? My insurance covers me even if I die in a Rally or other motorsport crash for example and being an amateur I didn't even have to pay for a rider.
posted by Mitheral at 9:30 AM on May 12, 2016


« Older The Five Continents of Emotion   |   I WOULD certainly do it all over again Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments