The Judean Cave Disaster of 2014 – Wang Yang’s Harrowing Tale

LocationDiver Full Name (Deceased)
China, Duan Zhang ZhouWang Tao

On April 18th, 2014, tragedy struck in Juidun Cave in Duan Zhang Zhou during a deep cave diving expedition. Best friends and experienced divers Wang Tao and Wang Yang successfully reached a depth of 166 meters, exceeding the original guideline by 10 meters. But on the way back, they encountered an emergency that resulted in an air-sharing ascent. Only one of them would survive to recount the haunting events that unfolded in the cave.

The Setting: Duan Zhang Zhou

Nestled in the serene countryside of southern China, Duan boasts breathtaking hills and pristine rivers, providing a stark contrast to the bustling mega cities that define China. Divers are attracted to the magnificent landscape of rivers and caves, underwater cave formations, and diving gear, which are some of the most beautiful in the world. The area is part of the huge expanse of the South China Karst system, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. This region is home to more than 10,000 kilometers of underground rivers.

Accessing the Caves

Accessing these caves is no easy feat. They are located in rural mountainous areas with no cellular reception or GPS navigation. Instead, one must rely on guides to navigate the terrain. Cave diving in Duan began in the 1970s when the first Russian divers visited the area, followed by British and French teams. The caves vary in size, with some featuring stunning stalactites and stalagmites, while deeper passages have smooth walls carved by water flow over millennia.

Seasonal Challenges

The Duan region experiences strong seasonal fluctuations in water level, with variations of up to 40 meters (130 feet) between dry and wet seasons, impacting flow and visibility. The deepest explored caves in Duan exceed 230 meters (750 feet). The best time to dive in Duan caves is in either April to May or October to November when water conditions are optimal.

Wang Tao and Wang Yang’s Journey

Wang Tao and Wang Yang
Wang Tao left

Wang Tao and Wang Yang first dived in the Juidun caves in 2010 and were captivated by the site’s beauty. Over the years, they made numerous dives, gradually increasing their depth. In March 2014, they consulted with French cave diver Pascal Burnaby, a world record holder in deep diving, to plan a dive to 170 meters.

The Fateful Dive

On May 13th, 2014, Wang Tao, Wang Yang, and support diver Jupiter arrived at the north entrance of Juidun Cave. The cave’s layout featured various channels and steep descents. At 164 meters, Wang Tao placed a line arrow, but when they ascended to 130 meters, the guideline disappeared. Panic set in briefly, but they managed to find the line again after a frantic search.

Critical Moments

At around 120 meters, Wang Yang noticed Wang Tao’s signal that he was running out of gas. In a chilling moment of realization, Wang Yang donated his regulator to Wang Tao and initiated an air-sharing ascent. With limited gas and decompression bottles still distant, they faced a critical situation, holding onto the guideline as they ascended.

Wang Yang carefully monitored gas pressure and depth, acutely aware of the urgency of their situation. The Juidun Cave disaster of 2014 was unfolding in real-time, with both divers relying on their training, equipment, and each other to make a desperate ascent to safety.

The Desperate Search for Wang Tao

The pair were only about 15 meters from the decompression bottles when the unthinkable happened. Wang Yang turned and saw Wang Tao floating upward, unable to reach him in time. Within a blink of an eye, Wang Tao had disappeared, leaving Wang Yang gripping the long hose. Panic briefly set in, but there was no sign of struggle or movement from Wang Tao. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Wang Yang grabbed the long hose and followed the guideline upward for about 10 meters but found no trace of his friend.

A Race Against Time

Gas supply and visibility were dwindling rapidly. Wang Yang’s thoughts began to blur as he grappled with the nightmarish reality. He found the 1875 stage bottle at 75 meters and switched to it. The cave had transformed, and Wang Yang felt a deep sense of loneliness. With silence all around and unfamiliar surroundings, he desperately looked for Wang Tao’s light.

The Elusive Search

Wang Yang had been through this section of the cave several times before, but he couldn’t find Wang Tao. With only 40 bar left in his tank, Wang Yang decided to retrieve his 2135 bottle. He ignored the 1845 bottle placed at 75 meters, hoping he could return to it later. Wang Yang descended, searching in vain, and his thoughts grew increasingly muddled.

The Descent into Confusion

At 90 meters, Wang Yang’s mental state deteriorated further. He recorded the scene of Wang Taoe’s accident and felt on the verge of collapse. As pressure reached 60 bar, survival instinct compelled him to begin a rapid ascent. He grabbed the EAN-35 bottle and started climbing towards the surface, bypassing planned decompression stops.

A Harrowing Ascent

Wang Yang’s rationality seemed to evaporate, and he pushed through all the decompression stops. His focus was solely on survival. When he reached 21 meters, he experienced a disorienting sensation of spinning. He grabbed onto a rock, struggling to regain composure. Wang Yang finally encountered support diver Jupiter and signaled the separation from Wang Tao.

The Grim Reality

Jupiter was shocked by the news and descended to search for Wang Tao. Meanwhile, Wang Yang’s tension eased, but a minute later, he felt a rock spinning in front of him, a sign of decompression sickness. Wang Yang signaled to Jupiter and began the ascent. They spent time at various stops, but the vertigo persisted.

A Desperate Gamble

Wang Yang tried to understand the cause of his condition, suspecting bubble expansion, oxygen toxicity, or inner ear compression disease. Unsure of the exact problem, he hoped that deeper stops would alleviate the vertigo. However, the pain continued, and with Jupiter’s help, he embarked on a slow ascent, making stops at 33 meters, 30 meters, 27 meters, and 24 meters.

The situation had reached a critical point, with Wang Yang’s life hanging in the balance. Stay tuned for the next part of this gripping story to discover the fate of Wang Yang and Wang Taoe in the aftermath of the Juidun Cave disaster of 2014.

The Ordeal Continues

As Wang Yang reached the 21-meter decompression stop, his vertigo worsened, accompanied by nausea. He began vomiting uncontrollably, suspecting oxygen toxicity. He switched to the long hose and then EAN-50 in an attempt to alleviate his symptoms. But things took a dire turn as he experienced convulsions, signaling for assistance to descend to the 18-meter stop.

The Battle for Survival

Wang Yang’s battle for survival was intensifying. He clung to Zhu P, knowing that his life hung in the balance. Amidst the struggle, he maintained a laser focus on his breath, depth, time, and gas pressure. As the minutes passed, he persevered, summoning all his energy to complete the remaining decompression stops.

The Harrowing Ascent Continues

Hanging onto Zhu P for dear life, Wang Yang struggled to maintain his depth. His determination to survive was unwavering. He was certain that his life depended on Zhu P’s presence, fearing that he would not survive alone. Gas had vented from his dry suit due to his upright position, making him feel increasingly cold and adding to his discomfort.

In his weakened state, Wang Yang attempted to add gas to his dry suit for insulation, but his efforts were futile. The repeated ascents and descents had emptied the Argon bottle, and he was too weak to switch the inflation hose. The situation was dire, but Wang Yang pressed on, determined to overcome the odds.

The Critical Decompression Phase

With time running out, Wang Yang’s body showed signs of distress. His right arm ached, signaling the need for further decompression. He descended once more, accompanied by Zhu P, to complete the necessary decompression stops. Pain subsided, but dizziness and nausea persisted. The total decompression time was approximately two and a half hours.

The Race Against Time

Wang Yang and Zhu P worked together to ensure a safe ascent, taking precautions to prevent oxygen toxicity. Despite his physical and mental challenges, Wang Yang’s determination saw him through. The ordeal was far from over as they awaited medical assistance and further treatment.

The Search and Recovery Efforts

Once onshore, Wang Yang’s gear was removed with the help of bystanders. Zhu P contacted the local authorities, seeking assistance from a French team in the area. However, the search for Wang Tao was postponed until the next day due to the time required to prepare for the operation.

A Grueling Recovery

At the hospital, Wang Yang’s condition remained critical. He described the dive accident to the French team and provided information on the potential location of Wang Tao. Over the next two days, Wang Yang’s symptoms improved, but he still faced physical discomfort, muscle aches, and bulging veins in his arms. Hyperbaric treatments stabilized his condition.

The Search and Recovery

On April 19th, 2014, search and recovery efforts began. A French team led by Pierre descended into the cave to locate Wang Taoe. They found him at 51 meters in a horizontal passage, suggesting he may have been carried there by the water’s flow. The recovery team worked diligently to retrieve Wang Tao’s body and all the stage and decompression bottles.

The Analysis: Root Causes

A technical analysis of the accident revealed multiple factors contributing to Wang Tao’s tragic fate. Stress-induced rapid breathing, carbon dioxide buildup, and increased nitrogen narcosis played a significant role. Gas planning, overconfidence, lack of a sufficient support team, failure to rehearse the stage bottle sequence, and not following a gradual approach were identified as crucial errors.

Lessons Learned

Wang Yang and Wang Tao’s unfortunate experience serves as a stark reminder of the challenges and risks associated with deep cave diving. The need for thorough preparation, conservative gas planning, and mental readiness cannot be underestimated. Wang Tao’s memory lives on in the hearts of his diving friends and the diving community.

The Final Farewell

On April 20th, 2014, Wang Tao’s remains were cremated in Nanning, and a heartfelt memorial service was held. Friends and fellow divers paid their respects, laying flower wreaths in his honor. Wang Tao took his final journey, surrounded by the support and condolences of those who cherished his memory.


When did the Juidun Cave disaster of 2014 occur?

The incident took place on April 18th, 2014.

How deep is the cave in the Juidun Cave?

The cave reached a depth of 166 meters.

What were some of the factors contributing to the incident?

Factors included stress-induced rapid breathing, carbon dioxide buildup, and increased nitrogen narcosis, among others.

Rebecca Penrose
Rebecca, an experienced blogger, delves into the world of diving accidents, sharing insights, stories, and valuable lessons learned. Dive in and explore the depths of underwater safety.
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