Cave Catastrophe – By Hasnain AlibhaiIn On The Page
By Hasnain Alibhai
It was the 28th July 1999. A day of endless challenges. A day of near-death experiences. A day a group of three cave explorers would never forget.
The group had set off from their company headquarters, in the direction of the ‘Los Piques Grandes’ mountains; their assignment was to find a safe exploration route for tourists and to collect rock samples for a client – a well renowned scientist – everyone knew this was a big contract – the real deal. As they sat in their monstrous Jeep, its elephantine tyres, riding over the rocky terrain with ease, they were already congratulating themselves.
“This job’s in the bag already,” declared Jeremy, who had only recently joined the company, this being his first exploration task.
“Don’t get your hopes up, no day is ever the same in this job, anything could happen,” warned Sam, the group leader. He’d been in the industry for almost ten years and knew all of the risks, as well as the rewards.
“Why do you always have to be so serious all the time? This is the best project you could ever wish for,” said Sergio, rubbing his hands together with enthusiasm.
A short while had passed and the trio had finally arrived at the base of the ‘Los Piques Grandes’. It was a beautiful sight. Each individual mountain was a throne to nature; it was as if gods and goddesses dwelled amidst this vast, picturesque landscape.
“Alright, we’re here. Jeremy, get all the stuff out the back would you. We haven’t got all day,” ordered Sam jumping out of the gigantic Jeep, which could very well be as tall as the towering mountains if its tyres were pumped up anymore.
“Okay, okay! No need to get so edgy about it, we literally just parked,” replied Jeremy.
“Jeez, well somebody’s in a bad mood. I’m off to scout the area by that cave, you know the health and safety boxes we have to tick off,” announced Sergio, beginning to walk towards the gaping hole at the side of one of the smaller mountains. Sam hotly pursued him, not wanting to miss out.
Jeremy heaved out two boxes – one bursting with mining equipment for the scientist, the other with caving gear to form a safe pathway for future tourists. There were also three very advanced radio phones, capable of sending messages long distances, even through thick layers of rock. Dragging them along on a cart, he went to join the others.
All three of the explorers now stood in the opening of the cave, each of them putting on the necessary equipment: harnesses, helmets, and gloves. Within the cave was a slow, yet painfully cold breeze, which brushed past like a flurry of ghosts rushing into the dark void that lay ahead. All sorts of wildlife covered the cave walls and ceiling – from microscopic bacteria to lizards the size of puppies. A revolting green substance was plastered all over the cave floor, giving off a sickening odour. A miniature avalanche of tiny stones came rolling down the gentle gradient of the cave floor.
“What was that?” shuddered Jeremy, not feeling quite so confident now.
“Relax, it was only a few stones. You wouldn’t expect anything less in a cave like this,” laughed Sam mockingly.
The group began to set up their equipment, tying their cables around the most stable rocks to ensure they didn’t come loose and cause anyone to fall to their death.
“Alright, then, now that we’re ready to go, logically I think we should first find a safe path and then get those rock samples bagged up and…”
Sam was interrupted by a deafening crash. It echoed throughout the cave. The group found themselves stranded in pure darkness. They switched on their torches to find that their only exit had been blocked off. A wall of impenetrable rock stood between them and the world outside.
An excruciating scream materialised through the thunderous cacophony of falling boulders. A cry of agony from a particularly high-pitched voice – Jeremy’s.
“Are you guys okay?” shouted Sam, deeply concerned for his colleagues’ safety.
“I’m good thanks, but I can’t say the same for him,” replied Sergio, sprinting to the aid of Jeremy.
The unfortunate explorer lay uncomfortably on the cave floor, attempting to hold his left leg, which was trapped under a rock. He howled in pain.
At the speed of light, Sam ran to his colleague’s assistance. “What on earth happened? Are you okay?” he asked, frantically rummaging through the contents of his small rucksack, in search of a first aid kit.
“He’s broken that leg for sure,” reported Sergio, inspecting Jeremy’s injury while desperately trying to hold his body down, which was squirming on the cave floor in all directions. “Hey Jeremy, you’re going to make it worse if you do that,” he warned.
Sergio was correct, Jeremy had severely fractured his left leg – the bone had completely shattered to pieces. It would take months to heal. More worrying still though, he’d need serious medication, and soon, if he were to stand a chance of saving the leg at all.
“Let’s get this rock off him at least,” suggested Sergio.
“That sounds good,” agreed Sam, “on the count of three then. One… two… three!”
Together, the duo heaved away the rock and set it aside, yet the action seemed to send a further wave of searing pain through Jeremy’s leg as he wailed even louder. Immediately, Sergio and Sam cleaned the wound as best they could and bandaged the leg against a splint. They administered some strong painkillers which provided small relief, but everyone knew Jeremy needed more than what their first aid kit had to offer. Much more.
“It’s lucky we’ve got those clever little phones. We’d be stranded here forever without them. Sergio, get your phone out, would you?”
Sergio hunted through his rucksack for his emergency phone. “Where’s it gone? It’s not there,” he despaired, his eyes falling on his marred colleague who now appeared to be losing consciousness.
“We’ll use mine,” suggested Sam, pulling his phone out from his bag.
Sam held his thumb over the power button, ready to input the emergency number. They’d be rescued within a couple of hours. He shivered as he pressed the button.
Not a flicker of light from the swamp-green display. Not a sound from the tinny speakers. The battery was dead – such an obvious error – the biggest mistake Sam had made in his entire career.
The team’s hope rested on the last available phone. Sergio nervously reached into Jeremy’s backpack. To his great relief he retrieved a nardo-grey device from inside the bag. Just like Sam, he held his thumb over the power button and pressed down, with determination and hope.
Two abrupt beeps echoed through the cave, followed by a sea of emerald which illuminated the darkness.
“Thank God!” whistled Sergio.
“That’s wonderful, mate. How about calling that emergency number now?” suggested Sam.
Sergio obeyed and entered the emergency number in an instant.
“Good afternoon, this is Search and Rescue. What is your emergency?” asked a man on the other side of the line.
“We’re stuck inside a cave,” replied Sergio.
“Okay, please could you further explain your situation?” asked the man again.
“Alright, so me and my caving team were doing a job for our company and when we got in the cave there was an avalanche or something which blocked the only entrance that we know of. There’s three of us in here, one of my friend’s got his leg trapped under a rock, I think he’s broken it really badly, he’s pretty much knocked out from all the pain,” rushed Sergio.
“Okay, try not to worry sir, a search and rescue team is only seven minutes from you. I’m also sending an air ambulance for your friend. Everything’ll be okay,” reassured the man.
“Thank you so much, please come quickly,” breathed Sergio.
Sergio and Sam worried about the health of their injured colleague, who was growing more and more pale by the minute. Would Jeremy last?
“I heard that you could lose your leg if you break it and it’s not treated quick enough,” blurted Sam.
“I know, but stop being so negative, we need to hope for the best,” retorted Sergio, trying to avert Sam’s unhelpfully pessimistic attitude.
Through the cracks in the wall of rocks that stood before them and the outside world, the chopping of blades sliced through the fresh, Chilean air. An ensemble of roaring powerful diesel engines echoed through the mountain range until screeching to a halt against the rubble beyond the cave wall.
“They’re here!” shouted Sergio in excitement. “And in good time too.”
Footsteps approached. They were just inches from them now.
“Hello? Are you in there?” came a low voice from the other side.
“Yes, yes we’re here. Could you speed it up please, my friend is really injured,” replied Sam, trying not to sound ungrateful.
“Yes, we’re trying our best. Please stand back, we’re pulling the rocks out,” said the same voice.
An engine fired up and an electric motor, most likely from a winch, began to whine. Seconds later, a deafening crash occurred, this time leaving behind a gaping hole in the wall of rocks as opposed to blocking it – this was their exit.
Immediately, a team of medics swarmed in through the hole and dashed over to Jeremy. They lifted him onto a stretcher and swiftly moved him out of the cave and onto the air ambulance. Within seconds, the helicopter took off and disappeared into the sapphire sky, taking the stress of Sam and Sergio along with it.
The remaining duo were called over to a paramedics’ Jeep (not quite as big as Sam’s which was still parked where they’d left it).
After a few medical checks, they were given the all clear. The two relieved explorers reflected on their mission.
“Well I think it’s safe to say that cave isn’t safe,” concluded Sergio.
“Yeah, so much for finding that rock the scientist wanted,” concluded Sam, whilst emptying out Jeremy’s bag.
And there it was.
Amongst all of Jeremy’s belongings, on the rubbly ground, a reasonably sized rock, shining in the bright sunlight.
“Wait a minute, isn’t that the rock we were looking for?” alerted Sergio.
“Yes, yes it is. Good spot, Sergio. I presume Jeremy must have picked it up and decided to keep it as a souvenir without realising,” grinned Sam, with a huge smile on his face.
This would give them all something to celebrate when they got back to the office. It would certainly put a smile on Jeremy’s face too when he heard the news. They couldn’t wait to tell him.