Children trapped in Thailand cave brings up memory of Cliff Cave Park drownings

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OAKVILLE, Mo. – As rescue crews halfway around the world in Thailand work to save 13 people trapped in a cave, some Missourians were reminded of one of the deadliest US cave accidents at Cliff Cave Park.

In Thailand, 12 boys and their football coach were found alive after 9 days of being trapped in a flooded cave, but they may not be in the clear just yet.

According to the BBC, experts said they’re considering two options: waiting until monsoon season is over and the water recedes, which could take up to four months, or extracting the group with the help of a tactical cave diving team.

Metro West Fire Protection District Assistant Chief John Bradley works with their dive rescue team and explains the difficulty in this mission.

“Every time you descend 33 feet, you’re changing atmospheres, which means it’s an increased pressure on the body, so they have to take that into account. There’s going to be a lot of math that’s done,” he said.

Bradley said divers will also have to take into account the size of the children, who are between 11 and 16 years-old. According to reports, many of the kids can’t swim, let alone dive.

He said the Special Operations teams that are involved now are not only good at diving, but they’re also very good at training people to a high level quickly.

For some, this tragedy is a stark reminder of one of the deadliest cave accidents in the US. It happened at Cliff Cave Park in South St. Louis County 25 years ago this month.

“The water rose incredibly quickly while they were in there. Six of them drowned, one of them was able to survive in an air pocket,” said Dan Lamping, president of the Missouri Speleological Survey.

Lamping said Missouri has the second most documented caves in the country at about 7,300 and explorers find about 100 more each year. But he warned that people shouldn’t just wander into a cave unprepared.

“There’s definitely the opportunity for people to find themselves in a very dangerous and precarious situation, which further reinforces the importance of getting involved with organized cavers,” he said.

The group that died at Cliff Cave Park was on a trip with the St. Louis Boys Home.

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