Raw video shows rescuers discovering all 12 boys and their soccer coach alive deep inside a partially flooded cave in northern Thailand late Monday, more than a week after they disappeared. (July 2)
NASHVILLE, Tenn.— A experienced diver praised for his help on last year’s Thailand cave rescue became trapped himself in a Tennessee cave this week for more than 27 hours.
Josh Bratchley, a United Kingdom national, was rescued a day after his friends noticed he was missing in Jackson County. He was found in stable condition just before 7 p.m. Wednesday, according to emergency personnel.
Bratchley, who was on the team that rescued 12 soccer players and their coach in a cave in Thailand last year, was “mentally crisp,” his rescuer said.
The diver who rescued him, Edd Sorenson, of Marianna, Florida, said Bratchley was only the sixth person he had been able to rescue alive from a completely water-filled cave in a career that has spanned more than 20 years.
“Putting people in body bags all the time is no fun. When you get to send someone home, it’s an exceptional feeling,” Sorenson said in a news conference after the rescue.
How the rescue happened
As sundown quickly approached, Sorenson entered the water to search for Bratchley, who had gone into the cave Tuesday afternoon with four companions.
He went on ahead of another trained diver, who had not yet arrived from Arkansas.
The water was cold and dark, the path narrow.
He found broken ropes, where Bratchley and his companions attempted to set down new guide lines back to the surface. It was there that the missing diver had lost contact with the outside world.
“When you’re at zero visibility, you could be inches or 100 yards from the line. It doesn’t matter because you can’t see,” Sorenson said.
That line would be the only sure connection to the opening of the cave. Without it, Bratchley was unable to find the safe path to the surface.
The cave was dangerous, Sorenson said, and the water was so muddy and silty that any movement stirred up so many particles that it was impossible to see the path ahead.
“I could have gotten to him sooner, probably, but I was searching every nook and cranny for a body,” he said. “To see him up on that shelf … he looked like a snowman, but of mud. Head to toe covered — and I mean covered — in mud. But he was very calm.”
When Sorenson arrived, Bratchley already attempted several self-rescue attempts, but realized he needed to save what remained of his air supply to make it out of the cave and decided to wait for help.
He was cold, he said, but had not started exhibiting serious signs of hypothermia, per Sorenson.
“He was cool, calm and collected. He answered all my questions quickly and precisely, with no hesitation. He really couldn’t have done a better job at helping in his own rescue,” he said.
When he and Sorenson exited the cave Wednesday, Bratchley said he was fine.
How did the diver get trapped?
Five divers entered the cave on Wednesday afternoon, but only four came out.
When they realized they were missing someone, the divers attempted several rescue trips of their own, emergency officials confirmed in a news conference.
Rescue teams responded to the scene around 1 a.m. Wednesday.
Bratchley was “mentally and physically fit” for a dive like this, his friends told authorities before the rescue attempt was made.
He reviewed a map of the cave before the dive, and should have been aware of at least one large air pocket in the cave.
Without food, drinking water or anything to keep him warm, he stayed alive in that air pocket, which the divers called a bell.
That air bell contained “sufficient air to survive for an extended period, a period longer than 24 hours,” Lt. Brian Krebs of the Hamilton County Rescue Squad said.
The cave stretches more than 400 feet from the entrance at ground level.
The passage, however, is very tight in some areas, Krebs said. It can be as small as three feet tall by six feet wide or up to eight or 10 feet across, he said. Depending on weather conditions, the water is approximately 40 feet deep throughout the cave, he said.
Several agencies assisted in the rescue coordination throughout the day, including assistance from people as far away as Hawaii, Krebs said.
“Thank you all for caring enough to be here,” Jackson County mayor Randy Heady said. “It takes a joint effort. It takes many people working together.”
When he got to the surface, his rescuers said, all Bratchley wanted was pizza.
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