Lost in the Depths of The Shaft: A Diver’s Tragic Tale

Lost in the Depths of The Shaft: A Diver’s Tragic Tale
Incident LocationDiver Full Names
South Australia, Mount Gambier, The Shaft CaveDouglas, Tony

Three divers plan to explore The Shaft Cave. On their way out, they got themselves into one of the scariest scenarios cave divers can get into – kicking up silt and struggling to find a way out. Would they make it out in time?

The Remarkable Secret: The Shaft Cave

For those who are not aware, there is a farm near Mount Gambier in South Australia that may seem like a typical farm with animals grazing in its fields. However, this farm holds a remarkable secret discovered by Trevor Ashby. It is known as The Shaft, and it’s estimated to be at least 393 feet deep.

The discovery happened when Ashby’s grandfather was plowing a field, and a horse accidentally stepped through the surface, revealing the hidden chasm below. Initially, the family attempted to fill the hole by dropping a multitude of stones into it. However, they soon realized that the hole was so vast that their efforts were futile. To this day, the only way to access the immense cave beneath is through a small hole cleverly concealed amidst the grass.

Once inside, the underwater caves’ darkness overwhelms the surroundings. The tunnels are numerous and labyrinthine, making it easy for divers to become disoriented and lose their way. Getting lost in such a cave is dangerous, causing an increased risk of drowning. This sinkhole is not only the darkest but also the deepest ever recorded in the region. It holds significant importance for the South Australia Police Water Operations, who use it as a training site. As recently as last weekend, they utilized the shaft to practice their search and rescue techniques for locating people or objects in underwater environments.

The Group of Friends: Kevin, Phillip, Tony, and Douglas

Kevin, Phillip, Tony, and Douglas are a group of friends who had recently completed their college education. They initially met at a dive site during their time in college, where they discovered their shared love for diving.

This common interest brought them closer, and ever since, they embarked on numerous dives together, forming a strong bond of friendship among the group. Kevin possessed the most experience in diving, having accumulated a wealth of knowledge and skills over the years. Following closely behind was Phillip, who had also gained considerable expertise in diving.

Planning a Special Diving Expedition

To commemorate their graduation and cherish the memories they had created, the group decided to plan a special diving expedition. They chose two different locations that held significant meaning for them. The first site they selected was the Moaning Cavern, a place where they first met. For the second location, they decided to dive the shaft.

This choice was primarily influenced by Kevin, as he hailed from Australia. By selecting these two distinct dive sites, the group hoped to create new memories while also reliving the adventures they had experienced during their college years. It was a celebration of their accomplishments and a way to honor their shared passion for diving.

The Unfortunate Incident at Moaning Cavern

On their first dive at the Moaning Cavern, located in Calaveras County, California, near Vallecito, an unfortunate incident occurred. Phillip, while rappelling down into the cave, slipped and fell, resulting in a fractured leg. Recognizing the severity of the injury, Kevin, Douglas, and Tony swiftly shifted their focus toward ensuring everyone’s safety and initiating an evacuation.

The remaining divers carefully made their way out of the cave, all the while performing an initial assessment of Phillip’s condition. It became evident that his leg required immediate attention, and the group determined that splinting the leg would facilitate the evacuation process. Kevin even utilized his knee pads as a makeshift splint, strategically positioning one pad in front of Phillip’s leg and the other on the side, providing the necessary stability in a vertical direction.

With the splint in place, the group successfully helped Phillip out of the cave, ensuring he received proper medical attention as soon as possible. Following medical advice, it was recommended that Phillip refrained from engaging in any cave diving activities until he had fully recovered from his injury. Consequently, this meant that only Kevin, Douglas, and Tony would proceed with their planned dive at the shaft without Phillip.

Preparing for the Dive at the Shaft

With this knowledge in mind, Kevin, Douglas, and Tony prepared themselves mentally and physically for the upcoming dive at the shaft. Three weeks had passed since Phillip’s accident, and he had made significant progress in his recovery. The group of divers, now ready for their next adventure, traveled down to Australia. However, due to Phillip’s injury, he would remain on the surface while Kevin, Douglas, and Tony prepared for the dive.

On the designated day, the divers gathered at the entrance of the shaft cave in Australia. Led by Kevin, the most experienced among them, they geared up and made their way into the cave. It was approximately 10:05 am when they began their descent, guided by the faint rays of daylight filtering through the small opening above.

The T Intersection and Unexpected Discovery

As they entered the cave, the divers diligently followed the main permanent cave line, which acted as a guide through the intricate passageways. At a depth of around 118 feet, they encountered a T intersection where two large tunnels branched off from a rock pile.

During this exploration, something unexpected caught their attention – a jump reel left behind by a previous diver. A jump reel is a line used to mark alternative pathways within the cave. It appeared that someone had placed the reel there but failed to retrieve it afterward. Contrary to proper diving practices, regardless of this discovery, the three divers decided to continue following their intended path.

Lost in the Cave: A Wrong Turn and Limited Visibility

After reaching a depth of 147 feet, Kevin, sensing it was time to return, signaled to Douglas and Tony to initiate their ascent. Picking the lead, Kevin guided the group, while Douglas and Tony followed closely behind. As they swam, they soon found themselves back at the familiar T intersection they had encountered earlier in their dive.

At this point, the safe course of action would have been to make a right turn, which would have led them back to the main guideline and eventually towards the exit. However, it became apparent that Douglas was experiencing some difficulty maintaining proper buoyancy in the water. Something seemed amiss with his buoyancy control device, making it challenging for him to stay level. Unfortunately, before he could rectify the situation, his movements caused him to accidentally make contact with the bottom of the cave, stirring up the settled silt.

The bottom of the cave was covered in a layer of muddy sediments, causing the visibility to instantly decrease as the silt clouded the water. Recognizing the unfortunate turn of events, Kevin decided to maintain his position by holding on to the guideline, assuming that Douglas and Tony would follow suit. Kevin decided to turn right and commence the ascent, hoping that his fellow divers would do the same.

Veering Off Course: A Crucial Mistake

However, instead of following Kevin’s lead, Douglas and Tony made a crucial mistake by turning left at the T intersection. Unknown to them, this leftward path led them into a progressively narrower passage filled with silt. This particular passage was intended for advanced divers who utilize side mount gear, as it required a higher level of skill and control. Unfortunately, Douglas, still struggling with his buoyancy, unintentionally disturbed even more silt as they proceeded through the passage.

To make matters worse, as they navigated the tight passage, Douglas’s front-mounted stage cylinder became entangled in the guideline. Despite his efforts to continue moving forward, the line ultimately snapped, leaving him with the entangled line trailing behind him.

It quickly became apparent that they had veered off course and missed the main exit. In low visibility and growing uncertainty, Douglas and Tony diligently searched for the exit, hoping to find a way back to safety. However, their efforts proved fruitless, and after several minutes of unsuccessful searching, they made the difficult decision to abort the dive.

Disorientation and Helplessness

As they turned to retreat, the deteriorating visibility and the absence of a guideline became apparent. They lost sight of each other and physical contact, leaving them disoriented and isolated in the passageway. Moving through the increasingly constricted space became incredibly challenging, and with each passing moment, they found themselves feeling as helpless as blind bats.

The realization that they were approaching the limits of their air supply added a layer of urgency and fear. Unfortunately, the tight quarters made it impossible for either diver to reach the regulator on their stage cylinder, which held the backup air supply trapped in the suffocating Darkness.

Douglas and Tony’s Plight

Douglas and Tony found themselves in a race against time as their hours of remaining gas dwindled while their hopes of finding an exit grew slimmer. Lost in the cave, they struggled to navigate the dark and treacherous passages, desperately searching for a way out.

Kevin’s Guilt and Determination

When Kevin reached the surface, he met with Philip, who was waiting for his friends to come back. Philip informed Kevin that the rest of the group hadn’t resurfaced and were still underwater. Kevin immediately felt guilty for not waiting and starting his ascent. Determined to find his friends and ensure their safety, Kevin decided to dive back in and search for them.

The Desperate Search Begins

Kevin followed the same route he had taken during his ascent, hoping to locate his friends. He also explored different side passages, considering the possibility that they might have taken a wrong turn. Despite keeping track of the guideline for his own safety, Kevin couldn’t find Douglas and Tony.

A Shocking Discovery and Limited Air Supply

Arriving at the spot where he had last seen his friends, Kevin was in complete shock. The area was completely silted out, greatly reducing visibility. Realizing his reserve air was running low, Kevin couldn’t risk spending more time searching. He resorted to banging on his air tank with his diving knife, hoping his friends would hear the sound and swim towards him.

Heartbreaking Decision and Lingering Hope

Unfortunately, Douglas and Tony didn’t appear, forcing Kevin to make the difficult decision to return to the surface before his air ran out. Although worried for his friends, Kevin held on to the hope that they might have already reached the surface while he was searching.

Panic and Rescue Efforts

When Kevin resurfaced alone, Philip became extremely worried and panicked. They quickly activated their rescue plan and contacted the authorities, providing them with all the details of the diving plan and what had transpired. The authorities called in rescue divers to search for the missing divers in the parts of the cave where they were likely to be lost.

A Challenging Search and an Unfortunate Discovery

The rescue divers encountered poor visibility due to the silt-filled water. After days of searching, they discovered Tony’s body deep inside a narrow passage, but retrieving it proved difficult due to the tight space. Despite their efforts, they couldn’t bring Tony’s body back.

Recovery Attempts and Second Tragedy

Specialized recovery divers were called in to continue the operation. With their expertise, they successfully secured Tony’s body and brought it to the surface. The following day, they searched further and found Douglas’s body, facing them in the passage. They faced challenges untangling the cave line and removing his cylinders, but eventually, they were able to recover his body as well.

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What is the Shaft Cave?

The Shaft Cave is a deep underwater cave located near Mount Gambier in South Australia.

How deep is the Shaft Cave?

The Shaft Cave is estimated to be at least 393 feet deep.

How can you access the Shaft Cave?

The only way to access the Shaft Cave is through a small hole cleverly concealed amidst the grass on a farm near Mount Gambier.

Why is diving in the Shaft Cave dangerous?

The Shaft Cave is dark, labyrinthine, and easy to get disoriented in, increasing the risk of drowning and getting lost.

Who uses the Shaft Cave for training?

The South Australia Police Water Operations use the Shaft Cave as a training site for practicing search and rescue techniques in underwater environments.

Patrick Broin
Patrik, a seasoned cave diver, shares his first-hand experiences and expert insights on the treacherous world of cave diving accidents.
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