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The cave divers who went back for their friends (bbc.com)
300 points by JacobAldridge on May 9, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 170 comments

I find the sentimentality towards dead bodies difficult to relate to. I would be fine with my body being left and would not want someone else to die attempting to retrieve it. I suppose my friends and family might not feel the same.

There's a crazy theory that human burial, as well as singing and dancing, are an evolutionary defense against large predators.


That link is a blog length summary of a book, but the ultra-short version is: if local predators get a taste for human flesh from a corpse, they'll come after the living and humans singing and dancing in unision can give the appearance of one large animal to scare off predators.

Wouldn't the commonality of singing and dancing be much more likely the result of it being a social behavior, and social behaviors increasing the odds of reproducing? This is true even today - dance clubs are still one of the best ways to meet women as a man.

If you're only after sex this is true.

Evolution IS only after sex.

I would argue it's after reproduction, successful reproduction that also has successful reproduction even.

Why do grandparents love their grandchildren? Something noble about human nature and love? Or is it evolutionary advantageous?

From my own observations, the relationship retriggers the parenting motivations / dopamine. With the added benefit that you can put the darn thing down at the end of the day and walk away.

From my own observations, the relationship triggers nothing like parenting. There's no feeling of parental obligation, outside of love for that child. So, tell me, why would that evolve in people?

Because old cave-people aren't as good at hunting and gathering, and can be better used as child-care cavepeople.

And survival, and the survival of offspring. Why does menopause exist if evolution is only after sex?

To stop those old, damaged eggs from generating more springs? Perhaps the cell quality decreases as time passes by, and it's better to set those men free to get new ladies, with new eggs.

Why on earth would it be evolutionary beneficial -- if evolution is only after sex -- for a creature to forgo passing on her direct genes in favor of letting another creature pass on hers?

9/11 showed that after great death comes great live.

We like to flatter ourselves that human flesh is super tasty and drives predators into a feeding frenzy. Why should it be?

It's not necessarily tasty, but it isn't super fast, we're not venomous, poisonous, spiky, or armored, we can't smell very well, our claws and teeth are relatively ineffective, our young are pretty defenseless for several years and we only have a few of them...we need all the inventiveness and precautions we can come up with to not be the easiest meal in the forest. Predators don't really care about tastiness, they just need to feed.

With all this in mind we still made it to the top of the food chain(not using the scientific term). What we lack in physical prowess we more than make up for in intelligence and our ability to use tools.

Not just intelligence but also endurance when traveling long distances.

Basically intelligence + long distance running = ability to track prey.

I don't believe that it is a matter of being "super tasty", but rather, one of not wanting to inform predators of an easy to access food supply.

This sounds a lot like why horse mares will eat the placenta from their foals after giving birth. Foals are born able to run, but they're nowhere near as strong as a mature horse.

I was under the impression they ate it because of all the vital nutrients that the placenta had, but I dont think anyone had conclusive evidence except in an evolutionary biology hand-wavy way.

If that were the case we should expect health problems from horses that go too long between pregnancies, yes? Otherwise the nutrients are not "vital."

Whence do you suppose the nutrients in a placenta originate?

Actually everything in this thread is a just-so story. It's pretty silly to pick out one specific rare behavior as even relevant to evolutionary fitness. How would any of this be tested?

I dunno, if you have been gestating a foal, you might be a little undernourished at the end of the process, so a placenta's worth of nutrients might then be "vital."

Well that all depends on what kinds of sauces you have at your disposal.

I feel similarly. However the article notes:

> Having the bodies would help the families grieve, and would also help to prevent lengthy delays to insurance and inheritance settlements.

Risking lives to recover dead bodies does not sound logical and yet it's the norm on underwater accidents. One of the multiple examples of a recovery gone wrong is the case of David Shaw [1], particularly famous because there's footage of the recovery accident.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Shaw_(diver)#Last_dive

> Risking lives to recover dead bodies does not sound logical

You're a green-blooded, heartless monster, Mr. Spock ...

It does not sound logical. Every time there's an underwater accident (including plane/helicopter accidents and shipwrecks), popular sentiment is on the same line: "why put lives in danger for dead ones" so there must be another reason for sending divers down there (other than feeling logical or not):

- Something related to body identification and insurance.

- Human life is cheaper than ROVs.

- There are tasks that ROVs can't accomplish.

One of the reasons is the bond between the living who continue the dangerous pursuit. It is a statement between them that nobody gets left behind. That is the level of commitment needed; unequivocal and unending.

It's interesting to contrast this with mountaineering, and the many corpses pointing the way to Everest's summit. Some have nicknames.

Surely an ROV could be tasked to this effort (at least for the identification part for insurance).

How would the ROV be controlled? Radio won't work. Long cables are problematic in cave environments, they snag, they get pulled by currents.

There are wire guided torpedoes and missiles that carry a spool with them and pay it out as they travel. Presumably this is a good thing because it can't be intercepted and jammed. Anyway, that missile carries 4200m of wire, which would be plenty for an ROV to explore most of the cave in the article before sending people, who could follow its wire.


You can't touch the sides in cave diving. It generates silt which destroys visibility.

Yup that's fine. If the ROV kicks up any silt, shut it down and go for lunch. Nobody's air is running out so you have extra time.

There's no current down in these caves. The logical solution then is to drop a trail of breadcrumb beacons to relay your signal along, either via light or some radio band that penetrates water halfway decently.

Are you certain? I've spent most of my dives in Florida springs, which can have flow rates above 100 cubic feet per second. You can basically get blown out of Devil's Eye at Ginnie Springs if you're not careful with your trim when ascending.

The downside of still systems is that any silt you stir up can kill the visibility for hours / days, which would cause problems for light-based beacons.

I wonder how much bandwidth a sonar link can provide over reasonable distance.

The a highly restricted, complex cave environment with echoes all over the place? Probably not much.

I suspect you could use the echoic environment to your advantage with a MIMO type system.

The ROV can drop an amplifying transceiver every so many meters?

How do divers communicate over long distances? If they don't, that's something worth solving in its own right. If they do, couldn't the ROV use the same thing?

Light signals. You can say 3 things over any distance, which are "OK" (as a question or a response), "attention please" and "OMG OUT OF GAS NEED HELP IMMEDIATELY".

Given clear visibility, which gets rarer and rarer with distance - and even more so in constrained spaces, which are unlikely to be pure bedrock. Also, line of sight.

Indeed. So you see operating a ROV like that is a non-starter.

I never said otherwise; are you sure you are not replying to somebody else?

They don't. GL;HF.

Also, cultural: Finns also have a proud history of going to great lengths to retrieve the bodies of deceased friends.

This wasn't sentimentality, it was just adrenaline junkies justifying themselves.

I really do get why people cave dive and do dangerous things. It's a lot of fun. But really, at the end of the day, they did this because it was a rush. There's no other rational reason to do something to risk your life doing someone your friends just died doing for no other reason than it was exciting.

lol, go ahead and downvote. I do a lot of adrenaline rush type activities, but I've never tried to pretend it was anything other than just dumb, life risking adrenaline pumping distraction from life.

A couple of years ago someone died on a mountainbike trail I use. This can really spook people, even those of us who didn't know the guy. Ultimately people want that feeling to go away and be able to enjoy the sport without such things hanging over them. It felt like people wanted closure so that the fun could continue rather any deeper sentiment.

Also I think that these sport are about more than just adrenalin. There is joy in mastering the difficulty without getting a rush.

"But really, at the end of the day, they did this because it was a rush"

Diving isn't really compatible with "a rush", especially not cave or other technical diving. You have to be focused, methodical and patient. It's more meditative than anything, you can't even breath too quickly without risk. While still having to keep track of a lot of things. In "rush" type of activities it's the sensation of almost losing control that is fulfilling, while in technical activities like this it's rather the sensation of being in control.

Not a diver myself, but I cannot imagine you could do any diving, and particularly this kind of diving, in an adrenaline rush. The fascination must be much, much deeper.

For cave divers, I am convinced that the other divers would quickly dispose of a team member who looks like he (or she) is not acting super calm.

so what is life, if not some boring stuff around adrenaline pumping distractions? you do not hold the key to the proper way of living other people's lives.

sorry for my bad english and for feeding a troll.

I wish people think twice before calling troll. That word has so lost it's original meaning, and is now a days used to shoot down any dissenting opinions.

I say this as someone who 100% agree with the first part of your comment.

I think you are right. My troll detector was triggered by the request for downvotes.

I scuba dive, and I am definitely interested in cave diving. I will tell you that I am not at all doing these things for any adrenaline rush, in fact scuba diving feels like such a slow paced and calm sport that I do not even think of it when I think adrenaline rush. I've also done skydiving. Skydiving I would definitely consider an adrenaline junkie kind of sport though and am happy to admit this.

I no longer skydive. I switched because I find the joy in exploring the underwater, a place that most people never get to see. And exploring caves is something that VERY few people ever see, and that is a truly amazing experience.

Soldiers in various armies share some similar traditions: not only do people risk injury or death retrieving wounded comrades; they even do it to recover the bodies of dead comrades, so that the body can be sent back to the family.

Finland was unusual in the context of WWII that all bodies of dead soldiers were retrieved if at all possible, and sent back home, not just buried at a local military graveyard. This diving thing (Finnish divers in a Norwegian cave) has echoes of the same.

Also note that the people retrieving the dead in both cases are in the same group as the dead, risking their lives in the same way. They have presumably thought about the possibility that they will die in the same way, and the idea that someone will retrieve their corpse and return it to their loved ones probably brings them a great deal of comfort.

You can just chalk it up to culture, but there is also a logic to it that is every bit as logical as the "leave my meat where it falls" crowd: if you have a culture of retrieving the bodies of the fallen, no matter the difficulty, then that means that you won't leave behind the wounded to save your own skin. This, in turn, makes it easier to trust and to risk your life for your comrades -- they'll take care of you in turn, living or dead.

Another reason for extracting dead bodies in a war is to avoid them being mutilated and used for propaganda by the enemy.

Is that a legitimate concern? During war-time, I would assume the body's of your enemy would be plentiful.

I always assumed the "no man left behind" spoke more about the excessive abilities of the group. (We are so powerful that we can even overcome our enemy to retrieve our fallen men.)

> During war-time, I would assume the body's of your enemy would be plentiful.

In fact, when for instance Taliban or Daesh look at things, the enemy bodies are not plentiful at all. I think it is extremely rare for an American, British or NATO partner soldier's body to fall in their hands. The Western losses in those wars are very small by historical standards, almost negligible, and evacuation is extremely efficient.

For instance, take the current Afghanistan war. Wikipedia: "As of October 1, 2015, there have been 2,326 U.S. military deaths in the War in Afghanistan. 1,856 of these deaths have been the result of hostile action."

1,856 casualties from enemy action in about 15 years. That is about the same number of casualties as Omaha Beach took in a single day. It's half of what my father's brigade inflicted in a single day against one single Russian infantry regiment in February 1942. It is one thousandth of what German Feldheer suffered in all of WWII, and one five-thousandth of what the Soviet army suffered in their "great patriotic war" during four years.

Casualty numbers in modern wars where Western troops attend are very small, when compared to historical wars.

The current Syrian civil war is then another matter. Its casualty numbers are not big when compared to WWII, but they are much bigger than Afghan or Iraq wars.

[My previous comment was of course wrong in the sense that US, UK and NATO troops are not the only enemies that Taleban or Daesh have. Other combatants - be it the Afghan army or Kurdish troops - that fight them do suffer more casualties. But also the propaganda value of those other enemies, when dead or alive at their hands, is much smaller.]

It's also a way of telling troops that if you get stranded, we'll even come and rescue corpses, so never give up hope.

It's mostly a propaganda things, but in special operations (from were many things in the military gets appropriated) it has a purpose. Which isn't about "comfort" as some has suggested, but rather about accountability. If you don't speak up about something and someone gets in trouble, you will have to go and get them. Which works both ways. But also if you make a mess, your friends will have to risk their lives (more than usual) to come get you and that is a horrible rather than comforting thought.

It's basically "we are all in the same boat", which is true (sometimes literally) when you're engaged in high-risk activities. Note that high-risk in this case doesn't mean that you might get killed, but that there is a low margin for error leading to catastrophic failure. Special operations are not about being a fair fight, it's about using your advantage and once you loose that you're often in big trouble.

Say you're doing recon on enemy territory and calling in airstrikes. You're a small mobile force that is hard to find having disproportionate impact on the battle, which is good. Then someone drop a glove or breaks his leg or anything else that compromises the mission and now you're just a small force soon to be a disproportionate loss, which is bad.

It's probably not a legitimate concern between two advanced regular militaries who follow the laws of war and would bury your dead with respect if they can't actually return them to you, but if you left a uniformed western body where ISIS can get it then I'm sure that would end very nastily indeed, with photos on social media and so on. Think of the military contractors burned and hanged on that bridge in Iraq.

'No man left behind' is practical, both for the propaganda reason above and unit morale, not about showing off. But like most things in military life I never heard anyone ever bombast about 'no man left behind' like they do in the movies.

"hey, soldier, go on this risk thing because everybody will be looking for you. Yes, we are a team!"

One reason to not do that is to avoid the "wound a soldier, kill the rescue party" trap, or the boobytrapping of corpses.

That's actually the plot of a Bosnian movie No man's land.

They wanted to recover for 2 reasons:

1) Speed up post-death admin (insurance etc) 2) Unblock the route for future use, they did not want to see the system closed.

Those are the practical reasons - there are numerous mentions of a culture of "leaving no one behind".

on top of all mentioned - bodies were blocking the way through. in cold waters it would take years to decompose and all equipment would be still there making passage much more dangerous/impossible.

The ability to grieve for the deceased is an intrinsic part of the healing process that needs to happen, after death rips a person from the fabric of their loved one's lives.

The dead body allows for death, in all its unknown shock, to be visualized and thus integrated into human experience. A link from the living to the gone, that allows grieving to heal the social wound of a death.

About the only logical thing I can think of is that it gives certainty. Without a body, there is always the possibility that they just wanted to start a new life elsewhere and their friends are covering for them. Or maybe they were saved by mermaids or...

Dead or alive they are still your friends, family, coworkers, etc. You take care of each other no matter what. Thats it.

>Dead or alive they are still your friends, family, coworkers

I think that's the main idea at issue here: Are they still those people? Or are they just, to oversimplify a little, just some old meat?

Your body is as much part of you as your mind/thoughts/consciousness. Just like a battery is still a battery even after it holds no more charge. It's not a piece of metal but a battery. A dead one at that.

I think it's arguable that a battery that can no longer be charged is a "battery". At best it's a "dead battery", and you'd be annoyed if someone sold you the latter as the former. Analogously, I would not call Bob's dead body "Bob", but rather "Bob's corpse".

It's kind of a dumb philosophical argument though. We all know what's really going on, so it's pointless to argue over words.

It might be (waaay) outside the scope of the usual discussions around here, but I don't know that it's pointless. I'm an atheist, and I'm totally fine with the idea that when I die, that's it, I'm as dead as any other organism.

Still, though, I've got strong opinions about how I want to be "disposed of" when I die. Burial evokes strong emotions for me, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. Even in games like Fallout, I try not to leave corpses just lying in a river or in a shrub or something, even if it was somebody who was just trying to knife-murder me. I accept that it isn't a person anymore, like I said in my previous comment, but I still have a sentimental attachment to the... husk.

I'm just reading Dawkings Selfish gene and it attacks pretty fiercely against "group selection". But I find it impossible idea that any part of human behaviour could be completely detached from genes. And especially weird if Human behaviour could influence genes, wihtouth anykind of feedback from genes back to behaviour.

How can you explaing phenomena like this withouth group selection? From selfish gene point of view, a brain that is even capable to think about risking life to fetch dead body of friend* should be strongly selected against.

* (and therefore some individuals might act on it very occasionally)

It's worth pointing out that The Selfish Gene is kind of old, and is by no means the last word on evolutionary biology.


>Since the 1990s, group selection models have seen a resurgence.

In this case I think there was a practical purpose behind the retrieval - the body was preventing further exploration of the system. Well of course the sentiment makes sense, and the Finnish have a long cultural history with this form of retrieval, but don't discount the practicality of it. Dead bodies really stink up the place something foul.

OK, before people start saying why the hell would you do such a sport. Not the same but similar - I did caving for a big part of my childhood until I was 20. I miss it. The connections you build with the people you do this are very strong, your life depends on it. The places you see are mind blowing - try running into a 60m dive after entering a small hole of maybe 30 cm of diameter, or visiting a room bigger than a stadium at -500m. And there is a certain romance around it - places with names from people that discovered them long ago, places yet to be found, old guys telling gone stories of exploration. Up in the mountains, maybe 1 hour from my old home back in Italy, there is still a search for a special entrance to a big cave system (runs 1 km deep) in order to do explorations also during the winter (a big lake inside the cave closes the "classic" entrance after summer), this search has been going on for 20+ years now, still searching.

> visiting a room bigger than a stadium at -500m.

Surely you mean -50m, right? :) Which system was that? It sounds lovely.


Check here: http://www.scintilena.com/speleoit/atlas/molise/pdn.gif

I got until the first P80. People camp close to this place few days to explore the part after that - here (remember, at -500m): https://images.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bancaca....

Edit. Uhm, I think the guy in the middle is my father like 15/20 years ago, I have to ask him.

Ah, I read that you did "cave diving" not "caving" -- that explains it :) That does indeed look like a really fun system, thanks for sharing.

It's not a cave, but it's big. It has amazing echoes. The Slanic Salt Mine in Romania:


I was part of a caving group for a while. Very interesting and friendly subculture. Mine had some overlap with hikers and a few were trained for rescue.

I recommend finding one in your area if you can (not all areas are great for caves unfortunately) and are up for some unique experiences.

There is a documentary coming in 2016 about this dive, here is the english website:


There was also an excellent article about the dive (with lots of pictures and videos that they recorded during the dive and interactive map) at the biggest newspaper in Finland, unfortunately only in finnish.


I think i found the article in english.


Thanks for the links!

It's surprising to see such an article #1 in HN ... right after a long weekend of cave diving training!

It's a sport that requires a lot of preparation, planning, risk estimation and counter-measures. My hobby cave dives are nothing like such explorations, but the principles are the same.

In the end, when you go diving, the level of risk is close to 0: one regulator may fail (risk around 1/100 if well checked), two won't fail during the same dive (risk of two failures 1/100 x 1/100 = 1/10000 which is negligible--if I got the figure right, I didn't double check! EDIT: it's rather 1/1000 x 1/1000 = 1/1.000.000). And we use two independent air tanks, and with air reserves managed with one regulator fault in mind, as well as the 'little' panic induce by the regulator fault. That's called the 1/4 rule, we use it in France in FFESSM diving organisation.

I guess that depends on how you think about risk - if it's about some probability of an unfortunate event, or maximum unavoidable damage in case of that event. A 1/10000 chance of certain death doesn't sound like something I'd like to take.

> A 1/10000 chance of certain death doesn't sound like something I'd like to take.

(maybe I was a little bit off, it's more likely that the risk of failure is 1/1000, so sum is 1/1.000.000)

but the point is, it's more risky to drive back home after the weekend than to recreational cave dive, especially with dive fatigue!

You have more risks than just reg failure though. Losing your line, line snapping, floods, rockfall, silt bank collapse, getting physically stuck, just to name a few. Based on the number of cave divers and the number of cave diver deaths over the past few years I would say your odds of dying on a cave dive are far, far higher than driving home. I think if you believe that you are more at risk driving then you haven't assessed the risks accurately. I speak as an experienced caver with several cave diving friends.

These kinds of risk calculations are perhaps useful for insurance companies, but for individuals doing a "dangerous" sports there is more to the risk than merely probability.

In particular, with something like cave diving and mountain climbing the "bad" outcome is going to be death of the individual or their friends and it will likely be the result of a series of bad decisions under stress (each of which makes the situation more dire) rather than an exceedingly rare multiple systems failure.

> it's more risky to drive back home after the weekend than to recreational cave dive, especially with dive fatigue!

I think that's the same issue with risk assessment and mixing up probability and impact: A problem when driving home is not a 100% certain death sentence, and it is not something you could not mitigate. You can drive slower, try to avoid dangerous streets etc. And even in the event of an accident you have systems that might save you (airbag etc).


More than one death per 100 million miles gives worse than 1:10 000 odds per 10 000 miles. If you do not want to take 1/10 000 death risks, you would need to limit your lifetime car travels to way less than 10 000 miles.

As I said below, this is not comparable. 1 death in 100M miles means most likely stupid behavior leading to an accident. That's pretty ok. You can mitigate that risk. Don't drink and drive. Don't drive when tired. Don't drive too fast, avoid fast streets/highways (where most of the accidents happen). This is different from a setting where something you can't influence at all can fail and then kill you. The probability of the traffic accident is conditional pretty much on the individual case.

Having said that, I don't own or drive a car ;)

> Don't drink and drive. Don't drive when tired. Don't drive too fast,

And particularly, don't share roads with any drivers doing any of the above.

Well, I would argue that in most so called extreme sports the mitigatable (is that a word?) risks play relatively much larger role than in traffic. You can't mitigate a drunken driver colliding with you, but it is precisely you who makes the knots in the climbing rope and packs your parachute correctly.

And, given so small probabilities, even if you tell yourself that you are mitigating the risk by not drinking&driving, it is virtually impossible for you to know that you do not have some other habit that increases your death probability to the average levels or above. Are your reaction times slower (or faster) than other peoples? Do you hitch a hike always in a car that is properly taken care of? Etc.

And if you do not own a car, your lifetime cycling quota in the US cycling environment is less than 2 000 miles[0]. Even less mitigating other peoples' mistakes than in a car.

[0] http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/06/13/bicycling-the-safe...

The discussion was explicitly about something that you can't mitigate, the failure of necessary components. This doesn't change by making better knots when rock-climbing (as far as I know).

You can always mitigate (duplicate safety not good enough, add triple, etc), at the end it comes down to risk/reward ratio and what's considered an acceptable risk. As a climber (and other extreme sports) I'm acutely aware of different tradeoffs I make in regards to safety/convenience/thrill and yet the couple of near death experiences I've had all involved traffic and unmitigable behaviour of other drivers.

> The probability of the traffic accident is conditional pretty much on the individual case.

Without knowing anything about car accidents, I would say you're very off on that assumption.

Everytime there's an accident involving more than one car, it's unlikely that all drivers involved were at fault.

There's an awful lot of stupid behavior death in cave diving as well.

A lot of the risks are mitigated by proper gear and training, just like driving.

Don't dive too deep on air to avoid nitrogen narcosis (similar to don't drink and drive).

Dive with a buddy.

Dive with team and individual redundancy.

Do not silt out the cave (the way you kick and your proficiency in the water has a lot to do with this).

Always have a continuous guideline to the surface.

Reserve at least 1/3 of your gas for emergencies.

And in practice there's other rules -- like you should always sight-see or use cameras/videos on the way into the cave. On the exit you should be more efficient (effectively this usually means you use 1/3rd of your gas to enter, and only 1/4 of your gas to exit, which means you have a higher buffer should anything go wrong).

The redundancy figures quoted are also low. I've done around 200 cave dives. I've had one hose blow on me in a cave and therefore lost a regulator. I can't think of any other local divers who have had a similar situation where they've actually needed to exit a cave with a failed regulator. I would say the failure rate is most likely closer to 1 in 1000. But even taking 1 in 200 as the failure rate, the chances of three failures are 1 in 8,000,000 and even then you can buddy breathe off of a single remaining regulator and you should still have gas supply to exit (the remaining third is there for that kind of situation).

And now I'm more careful to not only get my regulator serviced but to be more aware of changing out hoses and to do so before cave trips if there's signs of wear.

Generally with cave fatalities there are blatant issues, such as failure to maintain a continuous guideline leading to navigation errors leading to simply running out of gas because nobody was paying any attention.

There's only one known cave diving fatality where all the rules were followed and diver still died, which was the cave diving fatality that killed Parker Turner.

Unfortunately, one doesn't need to own or even be driving a car to still be injured or killed by one. There are many aspects of cave diving that one can influence (checking and servicing equipment, having redundancies) to be safer, as well as many thing about driving and cars that one can't influence (who else is driving around you, the state of mind of who's driving the car/bus you're in)

I think the real difference is not necessarily how safe or dangerous one or the other is, but one is a risk that is practically necessary to function in society while the other is not.

So, for the amount of miles I drive per year (10,000), I could go on a single dive for the same risk. Good to know, I guess?

His independence assumption is wrong. If one regulator fails, you return to the surface ASAP. That leaves much less time for the second regulator to fail, and a smaller conditional probability.

Gear failures is almost never a big part of cave accidents. But lack of training and following established best practices is a big part of cave diving deaths. (Actually cave diving used to have better statistics than regular recreational scuba diving. ) In this case I do think the accident could have been avoided by following the established best practices they all knew.

> A 1/10000 chance of certain death doesn't sound like something I'd like to take.

Your chance of certain death is 1.

It's only a question of when.

Some people consider that question fairly important.

Do you eat bacon? If so your chances of getting colorectal cancer are likely increased by a fair bit more than 1/10000.

Just of of interest of that all cured ham or is there something sorbian about bacon particularly?

No, I don't eat bacon.

1/1000 x 1/1000 only holds for two independent events. If the gear production and preparation is linked personally, locally, informally, productively ... then the probability of the backup device also failing is larger than 1/1000 if the main one failed.

Take 100 divers, each performing 100 divers in their lifetime. One of those people will encounter double regulator failure. I am not a diver, so I am not sure whether this is a definitely fatal scenario. However, if that is the case it would imply that 1% of divers that perform 100 dives will die from this one mode of failure.

Given that I am sure there are many other ways that one could die in submerged caves like these, as the people in the article did, I imagine that the actual 'lifetime probably' of death in frequent cave divers is much higher.

With 2 dives and 4 regulators on the team, it takes 3 failures to reduce the whole team down to 1 regulator -- and even then there's ways to survive and get out of the cave.

So more like 100^3 to start with, and then the failure rate in practice is lower than that (I've done 200 cave dives and I've had 1 failure -- and I know many other cave divers with similar levels of experience that have had none).

I ran out of air once, which obviously has the same effect as "double regulator failure" and I was fine. If you have failures like this you're taught to share air with your "buddy".

I worked for 5 years, and part of my job was inspecting, maintaining, and making emergency repairs on underwater hydraulic and electrical systems aside from the structural work. Running out of air in recreational diving is one thing, but in the tight, dark spaces of a cave, or under a moving piece of machinery it is another.

The one guy, Huotarinen, in the article died while trying to switch mouthpieces, and he was an experienced cave diver, not recreational diver.

He died at 130m stuck in a tight restriction, breathing a rebreather and after many attempts on freeing him self he died when he tried to switch to bailout gas. The reason why he didn't manage to do such an easy task is most likely related to the fact that he had been breathing heavily from the rebreather and because of that most likely suffered from hypercapnia (to much Co2)...

It's an incredible hobby, to be sure.

But it's also verifiably one of the more dangerous sporting activities known.

Sounds fairly high with a regulator failure rate of 1%, especially if it is well checked, isnt it?

I understand that people take pleasure in doing this sport because it's physically challenging and they find the challenge exciting.

> more than 11 hours after setting off on a dive that was supposed to take five hours.

I mean this is just insane. I can't even imagine trying to do something in which any mistake could instantly cause my death for 11 hours straight.

> "There are lots of questions - the original questions - about where the cave goes, and where the water comes from, and they are still there," he says. "And I am not afraid of the cave."

I appreciate this attitude, but I'm wondering if it would diminish the sport at all to have autonomous vehicles explore the cave before a dive.

It doesn't remove the physical challenge of the sport itself, but it could help divers prepare for tough portions of the dive.

e.g. at 110m depth, narrow passage. Single file proceeding with X minutes budgeted for issues.

I'm an avid explorer, regularly setting off to do things that are not entirely "safe". (though nothing on this scale).

The story of Chris McCandless[1] (Into The Wild) spoke to me so strongly, I made the trek[2] into the wilderness where he passed away, an old bus on the side of a trail in Alaska.

Chris' is a very controversial story, with many people believing he was an idiot for wandering in there "unprepared" and many thinking he is inspirational. I wound up spending 4 years living in the North, exploring the far corners of Yukon and Alaska.

I feel strongly there are some personality types that just need to get "off the map" and I love the part of Jon Krakauer's book Into The Wild where he suggests having a piece of wilderness on the earth that literally has no map. People can choose to go in there to explore. They'll (likely) find mountains, rivers, lakes, caves, etc. but nothing will be mapped, everything is to be discovered. When they return, they can't talk specifics, or show photos.

Some of us want to go places that have been unexplored, and we accept that risk.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_McCandless

[2] http://theroadchoseme.com/the-magic-bus

Your story sounds amazing. I'm from the UK where every square cm of ground has been mapped, examined and sold to someone.

Some questions.

    1) What did you eat and drink?
    2) Where did you sleep?
    3) What was an average day like?
    4) How did you deal with days like christmas day, new years eve, your birthday, the solstice and any other special day to you.
    5) Did you see or find anything curious? Something that made you pause and wonder?
    6) Is that sort of adventure a man thing? Did you ever hear of a woman doing something similar by choice?
Just some questions that I have, don't answer them if they are impertinent. Just a curious :)

No worries, I'm more than happy to answer questions. I love showing and helping others get out there. My site, http://theroadchoseme.com has a lot of details on my Alaska->Argentina drive, and now my trip around Africa.

I'll answer those questions as they apply to Alaksa->Argentina. Let me know if you meant something else, or want me to expand.

>1) What did you eat and drink?

I bought bottled water for the entire trip - it was easy to get 20L of filter water everywhere and fill up my container. I tried to cook all my own food on my little camp stove, rice, beans, pasta. etc. Then cooked food was very cheap in South America, so I was buying it at markets, etc. It was around $1USD for a huge plate.

>2) Where did you sleep?

In my ground tent about 3/4 of the nights, the rest in hostels or cheaper hotels. I always tried to "wild camp" for free - off the side of gravel roads, etc. I never had a single problem or bad encounter doing that.

>3) What was an average day like? Wake up with the sun, eat breakfast, exercise, break camp, drive about 1-2 hours, then find something to do for the rest of the day - swimming, hiking, markets, cities, reading, chatting to people, walking on the beach etc. then find somewhere to camp (free, hopefully!)

> 4) How did you deal with days like christmas day, new years eve, your birthday, the solstice and any other special day to you.

A couple were lonely and I was a bit sad, for others I had friends fly in, and even my whole family came to Buenos Aires for Christmas.

> 5) Did you see or find anything curious? Something that made you pause and wonder?

Yep. The energy at the magic bus is something I still wonder about. It should be a sad place, but it's actually an extremely energizing, happy place. Something is going on there I don't understand. (I'm not religious... but... I dunno)

> 6) Is that sort of adventure a man thing? Did you ever hear of a woman doing something similar by choice?

Absolutely women do it too! A female friend just drove AK->Argentina solo, and another is setting out in the next couple of years. I met hundreds of solo female backpackers too, having the time of their lives.

Wow! Thank you for the reply. Good luck with your adventures!!

Not true. I know people (men and women, not that it matters) who regularly discover and explore virgin cave in the UK, France, etc.

Also in the UK is is very easy to have an adventurous experience if you want. The Brecons, the Highlands, etc are well beyond civilization.

The highlands have a pub every few miles! Which is excellent when cold wet and tired. You would have to try quite hard to get really remote.

Every square CM of the US is mapped as well, and has been for a hundred years. The USGS is very thorough and all of their topo maps are freely available in the public domain.

If you'd say "every square mile on the surface," I'd believe you; "every square cm" sounds several orders of magnitude too precise.

Which is why, interestingly, Chris chose to not take a map when he hiked into the wilderness in Alaska.

I'm part of the "Chris McCandless was an idiot" crowd, but I guess he was intentionally not optimizing for survival. Into the Wild is still a very engaging book, but it frustrates me so much that people idolize a guy who made bad decision after bad decision.

The thing that pissed me off the most was when he burned his money instead of donating it to charity.

I understand where you are coming from.

>he was intentionally not optimizing for survival

That's a good way to say it. In all honesty - when I optimize for survival I actually find life too boring, easy and mundane. I want more excitement and adventure than that, so I understand why Chris did what he did.

>who made bad decision after bad decision.

It's very easy to armchair quaterback. Have you hiked into the middle of nowhere in Alaska and tried to survive? Have you hunted your own food? Have you struggled to cross glacier-melt rivers?

I have, and a lot more. I've seen friends go underwater at -35C 100km from anywhere, had snowmobiles not start at -50C well over 200km from anywhere, had severe hypothermia where I thought I was hot, lost feeling in my fingers for hours, jumped up and down on the spot for hours in an attempt to warm up, etc. etc.) Anyone that does as well as Chris did is not an idiot.

Most people wouldn't last a week, let alone 3 months.

> Most people wouldn't last a week, let alone 3 months.

Not even the native people of the area could have done it. Hunting for sustenance isn't a solo activity. Hunting large game is high reward with high uncertainty. You probably need a group of at least five people. With multiple hunters only one of them has to land a kill to feed the group. And it means there is the manpower present to process or eat all of the meat before it spoils. Which is what happened to McCandless. He was a skilled hunter to bring down a moose with a .22 but he only got a few meals from the carcass before it rotted, wasting hundreds of pounds of meat.

I can point you to a record from 1770-ish of a native american woman who managed to survive for six months alone in far north Canada, after escaping from her slavers. The party who discovered her was shocked she could even be alive and none of them had ever heard of such a thing. (Samuel Hearne's journals)

edit: Bagging a single moose during the season isn't "sustenance". It is sport. If it ends up in a chest freezer, then it doesn't count for this discussion. Sustenance means 100% of your calories come from hunted game. And sustenance-hunters at that latitude, even with a group, can go a week without seeing any animals.

Scaling up what I've seen people do with white tailed deer, 5 people could probably process 800 pounds of moose in two days if they already had stockpiled all the wood. Groups of 100 could eat it all. And groups that large were common for moving across the land.

> Hunting for sustenance isn't a solo activity.... You probably need a group of at least five people

That's not even close to the truth. I can tell you've never hunted your own large game.

Quite a few of my friends go and get a bull moose solo every year... paddle down a river for a week, shoot it, skin, quarter, load into canoe and keep paddling.

One of them is 65, still doing it :)

I always just go with one friend, moose and bison each time.

> eat all of the meat before it spoils

You think 5 people will eat >800lbs of meat before it spoils? Not even close.

Sure, McCandless didn't do a good job smoking it, but he sure as hell tried, and he learned a lot that would have worked better next time. I guarantee you won't meet a single person living in Yukon/Alaska that didn't f-up some aspect of large game hunting when they started out (me included).

McCandless did what all people moving North do - he threw himself in and tried to learn as fast as possible. The main difference is he didn't give himself any margin for error, because that would have made it less interesting/exciting.

Please read Hearne's journal. It is probably the best record of what living off of the land in those conditions fully entails.

I think the fact that I have not hiked into the middle of nowhere in Alaska and tried to survive is the indicator of good decision-making. Deciding to do that in the first place was dumb, and counter to all advice that anyone would have given him.

In caves there is the "rule of 6ths" which means of your available gas, you plan to complete the dive with 5/6ths left. Open water divers usually plan to surface with 1/3rd remaining. There is a lot of redundancy built into any dive plan, every piece of kit has a backup, etc. No-one who actively enjoys or seeks out risks or adrenaline lasts long in the cave diving scene, because no-one will dive with them.

An article from a Norwegian newspaper about the original incident, with visualisation of their diving profile, timelines, etc: http://www.vg.no/spesial/2014/dodsdykket/index_eng.php

Great visualisation.

At first I didn't understand what happened, but this article made everything understandable.

I'm not a diver so what I'm about to say may sound incredibly naive but I'm surprised they don't use more advanced communication tech when diving than just relying on light signal.

They could use some kind of haptic feedback system working to communicate between each other through RF waves. If one person presses a button, the other members feel a vibration or some similar haptic feedback. This would allow people to signal danger more easily. It would also make sense to have a notification signaling when any member is outside of the RF range.

Having such a tech would have allowed Gronqvist to have directly been alerted when Huotarinen became stuck either by Huotarinen alerting him or by the notification that Huotarinen was outside of the RF range (which would probably not carry very far in that situation). If other members had been alerted faster, Huotarinen would have had less time to start panicking and would maybe not have needed that cylinder of gaz.

So, maybe I'm incredibly naive and there's a good reason but it seems stupid and dangerous to rely on a torch to signal distress (which is often not going to be visible to members in front of the group).

As a cave diver (norwegian as well) i can tell you that a good light with a tight spot IS a incredible good way to communicate under water where there is no natural light at all. Lack of seeing your teams light is the first thing you notice. The only thing that could be better than a light is voice communication, but to do that in any meaning full way you will need to have a full face mask (like commercial divers) and that bring with them a lot of other problems. (like gas sharing etc). And Patrik did in-fact notice that Jari had a problem, and stayed 20minutes trying to help him before Jari died. The problem was the "surprise restriction" after point of no return.

So the problem wasn't really a communication problem, but they didn't follow good cave diving practice and thats most likely whats killed them. Normal cave dives starts and ends in the same opening, so you will never be at a point where you cant exit the same entrance as you started. When you do a more complex dive like a traverse as the Finnish did you always make sure you have dived ALL of the cave you want to traverse before! Normally you will do a setup dive from the other side of the system, and place a "cookie" (non directional marker) on the line where you turn. If you reach the cookie from the other side you can, if you up for it, continue to the other entrance. By doing so you ensure that everybody know of hazards like small and tight restrictions and that they dont catch you by surprise when you have passed the point of no return. (when you dont have gas/scrubber time to exit the entrance you started from)

Thanks for taking the time to comment. That makes more sense. From the article, it seemed that it took a while for Patrik to notice that Jari had a problem and that this caused Jari to panic with the consequences of him dying.

That's also a good point regarding the point of no return and preparation, the comments from the English divers did hint that preparation had been lacking but the article didn't really explain what could have been done better.

I've always been fascinated by cave diving but I've got asthma and I doubt I could ever do it due to that.

One of the pictures is captioned

> The Plurdalen Valley

Which is funny because the -en in Norwegian means 'the' and 'dal' means valley. So in a way it says 'The the Plura valley valley'

> 'dal' means valley


It's there in English too.

Not quite as obvious as The Los Angeles Angels.

This is a good long form article about another cave dive body recovery effort: http://www.outsideonline.com/1922711/raising-dead

There's also the very good "Snap Judgement" podcast about that here: http://snapjudgment.org/where-no-one-should-go

This story also aired on ThisAmericanLife http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/551/g...

Thank you. I was sure I heard this story before and it was bugging the crap out of me trying to figure out where.

Thanks for sharing that link. Heres a similar article from Wired: http://www.wired.com/1995/11/divers-2/

Very brave men undoubtedly. I can't think of a sport that I'd enjoy less though.

I could relate to a part of it - it's like being on Mars: just you, your mates, and the planet, equally unexplored and unforgiving.

vaguely related: the largest successful rescue mission of a scientist who was injured in a cave in Germany http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-27914426

An even more impressive, and tragic, story at over 270 meters depth, in one of the worlds deepest sinkholes:


Thanks, I had this weird sense that I had already read this story before but I thought it had been in Africa? Turns out it was this article.

It seems quite egoistic to take such extreme risks for leisure if you have a wife and possibly kids who love you.

I sometimes think this when I watch the Isle of Man TT races (which, incidentally, happen later this month).

At least one of the top riders is a family man, he brings his wife and kids to the island every year.

There is an excellent documentary about the races [0] which I highly recommend. The wives of these people seem very accepting of what they do.

The bereaved wife of a TT racer is featured quite prominently in that film. She is very philosophical about the whole thing, basically saying that his obsession was so great that it wouldn't have been reasonable to ask him to stop.

[0] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1698010/

What about being a soldier? Does it seem egoistic continue being a soldier, if you have a family?

We seem to be Ok, with people, risking their life to protect the interests of the country and thus protect our interests, but not ok if they risk their lives for themselves?

Honestly, it does seem sort of egoistic to continue being a soldier if you have a family, at least to me. I'm going to have a hard time explaining it in a way that doesn't seem confrontational, but the most exaggerated example of this is Pat Tillman[1], the professional football player to turned down a $3.6 million NFL contract to enlist in the Army after the Sept. 11 attacks. Two years later, he was killed by friendly fire, making a widow out of the woman he married right before enlisting. Even if you ignore all the absurd, bungled propaganda surrounding his death, he probably did a lot of good in the Army -- but was it as much good as if he'd stayed home and used a couple million dollars to help vets or something?

I very much understand the sense of duty that pulls people toward the military, and I know it's frequently a complicated situation. But I don't think I'll never understand these guys who marry a woman, have a kid or three in between deployments, then just go running back into a war zone.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat_Tillman

Where do you draw the line?

Stop base jumping or first descents on cave dives after having children

> "This incident happened, and then they've made a film and they all come out as heroes," he says. "But these two people should never have died in the first place."

What should the divers have done to avoid this? Were they just not experienced enough for a dive of this magnitude? One mentions they should have done a practice run, but what does that mean? How do you practice for a dive?

I have no experience diving in caves, I just read about it on the internet, but this stuck out at me:

> But after descending about 85m Kankanen returned. Looking upset, he explains in the film that he slept badly and is simply not in the right frame of mind for the operation.

This happened on the retrial mission, but it hints very softly at the culture in which this group of people went cave diving.

I interpret the comment about not having to have died in the first place, as meaning that cave diving is extremely dangerous, and so planning and execution need to be perfect and require a great deal of mental control.

The first person died after he got entangled by some cord, and then after panicking being unable to switch to a fresh air supply. Why the second diver died is unclear. So maybe they weren't in the right frame of mind to deal well enough with running into dangerous problems at depth.

For people interested in getting into diving as a sport I recommend reading "Diver Down: Real-World SCUBA Accidents and How to Avoid Them" by "Michael Ange" (just search on Amazon).

It contains numerous case studies of diving screwups that either ended in death or near-death and what can be learned from them to avoid those situations.

Is it because of the water pressure that the guy who died couldn't stop ingesting the water?

Incredibly brave people. I don't know about the rest of you lads, but I don't have the balls nor the fortitude to even attempt such a feat of humanity. My hats off to them all.

The article hints at them having done something wrong and that it could have been prevented. Any divers/cavers know?

99% people do NOT donate their organs posthumously

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