8 people trapped in a cave
May 18, 2001 1:00 PM   Subscribe

8 people trapped in a cave have been reached by rescuers. Against advice, they went spelunking during bad weather and got trapped by rising water. After two days they're safe, but they're weak, hungry and dehydrated. Our heros weren't able to find anything to drink in the middle of a flood. (I bet they'd also need to be rescued from an escalator during a power failure.)
posted by Steven Den Beste (26 comments total)
i know nothing of cave water, but i do know salt water does not hydrate you.
then again, maybe they were just really dumb.
posted by syn at 1:43 PM on May 18, 2001

or scared.

in the dark.
posted by syn at 1:44 PM on May 18, 2001

I guess the tribal council meeting was cancelled.
posted by Raymond Marble at 1:52 PM on May 18, 2001

I don't think there is salt water in the Alps, where this cave is located. It's just about as far from salt water as it's possible to be and still be in France.

And spelunkers usually have flashlights; how else did they get as far into the cave as they did?
posted by Steven Den Beste at 1:58 PM on May 18, 2001

Is there any chance these arrogant morons will be sent a bill for the cost of their rescue? Or does that go against some socialist ideal?
posted by aaron at 2:07 PM on May 18, 2001

Is there any chance these arrogant morons will be sent a bill for the cost of their rescue?

Good point. What bugs me much more than the expense, though, is that the rescuers in these sorts of situations have to put their own lives at stake to make these difficult saves. Not fair.
posted by bilco at 2:16 PM on May 18, 2001

You guys are kidding, right? You can't just go drinking any old water any old place. Parasites like giardia and cryptosporidium can make you sick. Then not only are you trapped in a cave, you're also doubled-over in intestinal "distress," as they say. These spelunkers would only drink enough water to stay alive, not enough to be fully hydrated. Come on.
posted by megnut at 2:16 PM on May 18, 2001

I admire people who do more than sit at home and lead extremely passive lives (as many, although not all, do) what are rescue services for but to rescue people who get into trouble? Perhaps they were somewhat at fault, but I'm surprised by the scathing tone of some of the comments.

Tourism is an increasingly important industry, brings in a lot of money, and I don't think any country that is able to provide help would not wish to do so.

Where I live, tourists often need help both on the sea and land. Sometimes they are at fault, sometimes not. But it doesn't make me feel like a better, more superior person when someone else gets into trouble. I don't begrudge the cost (in tax dollars) People make mistakes, even our most famous and heralded adventurers did. When people get into trouble, you help them out. You do it because you are aware of the importance of goodwill between countries, you do it because on a very basic level, you want to do whatever you can to help out.
posted by lucien at 2:45 PM on May 18, 2001

<sarcasm>Yeah, but isn't it so much more fun to laugh at the 'morons'?</sarcasm>
Look, they were a group of beginning cavers, in a cave rated for beginners, who ran into an unexpected flash flood. How does that make them arrogant, or idiots? Oh, they disregarded the warning of a 'local restaurant owner'. Obviously they're total wastes of carbon and oxygen.

SDB, did you just post this link so you could have someone to feel publicly superior to? I'd like to see how you would deal with being trapped in a dark, flooded cave for two days. I'd be scared shitless, myself.

(And show me the flashlight batteries which hold up after 48+ hours of use.)
posted by darukaru at 2:50 PM on May 18, 2001

The basic rules of caving include:

Always carry three sources of light(one primary and two backups), with spare batteries, bulbs, and parts for each.

Always cave in groups of four or more, and always with a person who has visited the cave before (first explorations, obviously, excepted).

Never enter a cave that is in danger of flooding if there is a threat of rain.

Like any sport, they should have read the rules before starting.

Now as to the rescuers: Caving rescue crews (who often double as mine rescue) are largely mutual aid societies. People volunteer because they know they may need the help one day. Sort of the opposite of the tragedy of the commons.

What should really get us pissed off, however, is that the rescue crew drilled down into the cave in an attempt to rescue the eight. Now the cave will always be wet, and may collapse, but will certainly never be the same. For that, I'm calling the eight idiots.

If any of you want to learn more about safe caving, check out the National Speleological Society website.
posted by chino at 3:07 PM on May 18, 2001

My brother said to me the other day, "Man, I'm gunna go spelunking." I looked him right in the eye, and I said, "You arrogant son of a bitch! How dare you, you moron! You're playing with forces you can't even understand!"
I then calmly explained that it is better to sit in front of your computer, eating cheetos, and mock those that make mistakes will performing recreational sports.
posted by Doug at 3:07 PM on May 18, 2001

Thank you for a well-reasoned explanation, chino.
posted by darukaru at 3:11 PM on May 18, 2001

My doctors have advised me not to write about tourists. I get excited and repeat myself, lose my appetite, and become completely unsympathetic to newlyweds and other nice people. The last link doesn't mention it but those waves were 15 to 20 foot breaking on a reef close to shore. I know everybody makes mistakes. I make them when I'm not on vacation but I suspect that I make a lot more of them when I am on vacation. I'd like to think that if someone familiar with an area gave me advice and explained the reasoning behind it I would pay attention.
posted by rdr at 3:32 PM on May 18, 2001

Darukaru, if there were eight people together, then there should have been at least eight flashlights only one of which needed to be on at any given time. (But if they thought they were going to be trapped, then some of the time they'd be off, and they would turn them on when someone needed to move around.)

And I'm not criticizing them for getting trapped. I'm marvelling at someone who could risk dying of thirst in the middle of a flood. Dehydration is no joke. I nearly died of it when I was about three years old.

When you're in an emergency situation, you do what you have to do to survive. Ever watch what all US military pilots have to learn? In addition to flying, they have to take a course in survival in case they're shot down over hostile territory. This not only involves such things as evading enemy patrols but also involves getting used to the idea of doing anything and everything to survive. You drink what you can find. You eat anything which is truly edible, whether it's what you would think of as normal food or not. As part of the training they all eat insects and worms, just to get used to it.

In an emergency situation you have to worry about primary problems. You don't think "Boy that water looks yucky" you think "I don't want to die of dehydration". And you drink anyway.

[By the way, if you don't like my posts I suggest you not participate in their threads. I've had enough of your carping.]
posted by Steven Den Beste at 4:08 PM on May 18, 2001

Sigh. These were regular people, not trained military pilots or survivalists. They were thrust into a situation they weren't prepared for, were probably terrified throughout the whole ordeal, and I'm sure they did the best they could with what they had.
We, who weren't there, can talk rationally about this, but you don't think at your best when you're scared to death and a couple hundred feet underground. And I'm sure 'I don't want to die of dehydration' was not at the top of their minds--it was probably 'I don't want to die in this f'ing cave.', or 'How long until the air runs out?' Megnut's point is also valid--they probably drank enough to survive, but not enough to remain at normal hydration.
If water is rushing by you at high speeds (as implied by 'torrents'), you're probably not going to want to go near it, for fear of the current.
You do have a valid point about the flashlights, though.

[But I've still had enough of your constant smug superiority. Pardon me if I puncture your inflated ego now and then--I won't roll over and beg because you don't like it. I wouldn't have been snippy if it weren't for the escalator crack, tho.]
posted by darukaru at 4:44 PM on May 18, 2001

Dehydrated? During a flood? What's up with that? "Duh, I'm thirsty. Never mind this flood, I only drink bottled."
posted by Jerry Seinfeld at 5:02 PM on May 18, 2001

Flood water and your health.

Exposure to sewage or its products may result in a number of illnesses, the majority of these are mild cases of gastro-enteritis characterised by cramping stomach pains, diarrhoea and vomiting.

And yes, European rescue teams are increasingly billing people they evacuate for the costs. But here's an Australian expert's perspective:

RT: What do you think about billing people who are rescued from caves?

Feldhaus: I think it is a dangerous practice. As a community, we have to come together, and we have tax systems to handle this. If a house burns down, we have a fire department funded by "x" amount of dollars or we somehow distribute the cost of these expensive operations among the community. We either need to charge people and not get the money from the rest of the community, or we need to get the money from the rest of the community and not charge people. If they've done something really stupid, go after them through the legal system. If they violated laws, prosecute them.

The second thing is that I'm a volunteer. If the team or organization that I work for turns around and bills you for an operation, then I wonder about my volunteer status, because you're paying for the service. That takes the whole issue of my liability to a different level. Not that I would deliver care any differently; it's just that I feel comfortable with the insurance that I carry and with my role, because I'm a volunteer and that's the way I want it to be. If you are billing somebody, you're also setting up a precedent that you're always going to be there. We are volunteers. Sometimes, we go on vacation!

posted by dhartung at 5:36 PM on May 18, 2001

This was not flood water (with sewers and gasoline tanks backing up into it) and it was not mineral/dissolved solid-rich cave water. It was rain water rushing into the cave from runoff. There should have been little to fear in drinking it.
posted by daveleck at 7:30 PM on May 18, 2001

I don't even know why I'm bothering, in what has become the most petty argument ever, BUT....the article doesn't say that they were on the verge of mummification, with dry chunks of flesh falling off their bodies. It says they were dehydrated. Like, needed some water.
Personally, I think the escalator comment was funny, if unwarranted, and I'm going to steal it from Steven. But I always do find it kind of odd when the point of a post is to make fun of people who've been hurt or killed. Aren't there better things to talk about?
posted by Doug at 7:51 PM on May 18, 2001


They were thrust into a situation they weren't prepared for...

They were thrust into that cave? By whom?

And the fact that they weren't prepared is part of point, isn't it?

Lucien and Doug--

Valid points about active vs. passive behavior, but, to be fair, criticizing one group of amateur spelunkers for lack of judgment is not the same thing as criticizing "recreational sports" in general. I don't really see anyone making the point you seem to be countering -- that the best way to live one's life is to never leave home. I think you're setting up a strawman that doesn't exist.
posted by bilco at 8:57 PM on May 18, 2001

They were not thrust into anything. They went spelunking without enough proper experience or resources to handle it, and put themselves in over their heads. Literally. And people are defending them? This isn't about opting to live as a couch potato vs going out and experiencing life. This is having the common sense not to put one's life into an unecessarily risky situation. Yes. They were idiots. I live my life every day purposefully choosing not to do stupid things that could get myself killed or put others in jeopardy. It's common sense. These alleged spelunkers got really lucky. Hopefully they've learned their lesson. If not, I hope they do it again and don't get saved this time, thus doing their part in helping to clean out the gene pool.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:28 PM on May 18, 2001

The French have this weird fascination with things underground, I find.

This is a cave-ridden country, and every year, somebody gets lost, trapped or killed in one.

Some of the the best cheeses, like Roquefort, are aged in unique French caves. Some cheeses can only be cured and aged in a single cave, because there's no other place in the world with the same combination of mold, temperature and air-borne mysteries that give each cheese its unique flavor.

They are indescribably proud of the Paris Metro.

They are indescribably proud of the fact that during the excavation of Egypt's Valley of Kings, engineers who had dug the Paris metro (not cut-and-covered like the New York subway, but tunneled), were brought into apply their expertise to the delicate archeological situations.

I have a 600-some-odd-page book called "Paris Souterrain" by Emile Gerards that outlines the caves, dry water courses, metro lines, quarries, catacombs, sewers, mines, bomb shelters, bootleg and black market storehouses, aquaducts and other interesting features of underground Paris. Quite interesting.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:47 AM on May 19, 2001

> Is there any chance these arrogant morons will be
> sent a bill for the cost of their rescue? Or does that
> go against some socialist ideal?

Begrudging them a rescue would be like begrudging you a rescue if, as you idled in a Burger King parking lot and gobbled a few Whoppers, a great big tree that died from pollution heaved over and pinned you behind the steering wheel, your fingers just inches from the French fries. Sure, some people might want to let you wait -- "Let the arrogant moron buy a rescue," they might say. "What does he think this is, a socialist state?" -- but I think a few people would be willing to do their part to get you out by dinner and not complain about the cost.
posted by pracowity at 4:44 AM on May 19, 2001

Actually, I've been doing some thinking about this, and I've managed to boil the argument down to its bare bones.

All those who think the people should have died in the cave, raise your hands.


All those who think the people should have been rescued, raise your hands.


Good, now let's count them and we can go home.
*This* is what separates us from the animals, people--that we're willing to go to such lengths to save our own.
posted by darukaru at 8:31 AM on May 19, 2001

You've all missed the funny part of this story, which is that they were there to learn to work together more effectively in a corporate environment, a la Tony Robbins!

I have always been fascinated by caves and caving and have done some myself in the past. I join you, chino, in lamenting the real disaster here: the irreparable damage to the cave ecology.
posted by rushmc at 11:31 AM on May 19, 2001

And yet no one seemed to notice who posted the link...
posted by feelinglistless at 3:26 PM on August 25, 2001

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