ESPELEO RESCATE MÉXICO
Chiapas, "Saraos" Rescue Report, November 2004
The evening of
November 2 I was in the Sierra de Alvarez, flagging a few points for
a trekking practice with the San Luis Potosí group. At 6:00 pm I
was on the way back, and about 25 km from the city I got a phone
call from Ricardo Sierra (ERM- SLP), informing me of the request of
help for the Chiapas Red Cross to rescue two kids that were trapped
in a cave near Palenque. Almost immediately after that Ricardo
Zaragoza (ERM-SLP) catched up with me on the road, he had gone out
to look for me, since he knew where I was and couldn't find me on
the phone earlier.
(2 of ERM/San Luis Red Cross and 3 of San Luis Red Cross' Cave
At about 8:00 am,
at the junction of the Veracruz-Villahermosa highways, the
briefed on the accident. The father and his two kids were hunting
tepezcuintles the night of October 31 (Sunday). Their strategy was
for the kids and their dog to get the tepezcuintles to run through
the south entrance of the cave and the father waited outside the
north entrance, his machete ready. That night an animal was only
wounded, not killed, and retreated into the cave.
Proteccion Civil, also local police was present. Their function was
THE WORK PLAN
In the command
center were two Chiapas ERM members: Salvador Rodriguez Pola and
Ulises Garcia Zorrilla. They informed us that Chiapas Proteccion
Civil was in charge of the operations. That the passage was being
widened with hydraulic tools and that the groups were working in 90
min shifts. Since we had plenty of sleep on the road we decided to
head to the cave to support the maneuvers and relieve Omar
(ERM-SLP), since he had been working for a long time.
Another option was to find alternate entrances to the cave. This search was donde with the help of locals, but we didn't find anything that could help us.
It is located 500 m from the village. A very muddy path leads to the cave. At 100 m from the cave a stream crosses the road. The main entrance is a sinkhole ("A", zone designations, used for the rescue logistics), 7 m deep, easily downclimbed, there you reach "B". To the south there is a room, 3 m of ceiling height (sloping) and a few puddles. Further south there is one of the entrances of the cave. To the north there is a low and wide passage, 60 cm (24 in) high, 8 m long, with a mild slope (5-10 degrees). At the end of this passage there's a room big enough for 5 or 6 persons, seated. On a side there's a small dome, 2 m high, and some small breakdown blocks that lead to another entrance.
In front of the
dome, west of the end of the low and wide passage ("C"), is a narrow
passage, starts at 0.5 m high, 1 m wide, "T1", which then decreases
plan was to enlarge the passage. At first we could use hydraulic
tools, but as the passage got narrower we had to switch to chisel
and hammer and after "U" only the hands could be used, due to the
nature of the passage. People would scoop mud with their hands and
then inched back to pass the mud and dirt to the ones behind. It
was slow and tiring and the closed quarters didn't help.
One of the village elders said that we would never find them. "The cave is playing with you", he said. "When you think you're close it will move them and it will keep playing with you... Don't insist much, because the cave could get angry and then it won't let you out. If you want the kids out, you have to trade them for their father. But the cave won't give you both kids, it'll keep one. Let the father go into the cave if he wants to save one of his kids."
when people thought they heard the kids and thought them really
close, after gaining a couple more meters there was nothing there.
The closest I was was at the second light bulb. I must confess I
never heard them, I guess I was not close enough.
A Villahermosa Red Cross member, Martha, arrived on Thursday morning. She's short and thin (1.47 m, 41 kg/4ft10in, 90 lb). She checked the passage and asked the passage to be enlarged for another 0.6 m more (2 ft). She considered that enough to reach the kids, since she said she could hear them. The group worked hard given this hope. Martha entered the passage again, but she then found another 90 degree turn.
At around 9 pm I was in charge of the entrance of the cave. There was nobody else working at that moment since there had been some problems with the locals, who said that all we wanted was the gold that was hidden in the cave. Three locals insisted on entering the cave to see what we were doing. Given the situation I decided to let two of them enter the cave. They confirmed that there was no way on and that there was no gold either. They told me that that's what they wanted to know and that they would tell the community so they would let us work without further hassle.
while the locals entered the cave to check on our work, I was
talking to an uncle of the kids, about 25 years old. He said "forgive
me if I'm speaking behind the back of my brother, but I ask what
were the kids doing in
We were talking while the rain started. Given the chance of flooding we called everybody out of the cave, and were told to rest until they were called again. Twice I was called to the command center, but the chat was interesting and I said I would be there shortly. Water started to pour into the cave down the slope. We built a small wall to deviate the flow to the southern entrance. We started bailing water out of "B". We had already checked the passage zone and water was not flowing into it. While a group kept bailing water I went in to check the passage up to F2, where I noticed water in the passage. The water level had increased so much that water was starting to come out of the cave. It was until later when I realized that the passage where the kids were was most probably completely flooded, since that level was 1 or 2 meters below "B".
The water level kept rising until it
reached "B". It
soon reached knee level, so we climbed out of the cave, since there
was nothing else we could do. In less than an hour the cave was
completely flooded, up to the main entrance.
END OF MANEUVERS
The rain was not
stopping, so at 3 am we headed for the river again, to see if
In the meantime, a local policeman who speaks Tzeltal relayed information that the village was preparing "something" against the rescue group. They wanted to take one or two hostages until the kids were out alive. Given this, the police insisted on us abandoning the zone. Everybody packed up and somebody was sent to look for me.
When I reached the command center, besides giving the latest news, I was only thinking of getting out of my clothes and sleeping a little bit. I was surprised to find everybody awake and ready to leave. I was informed of the villagers' plan and I was not comfortable leaving, since the two locals that checked our work said we could workd peacefully. I guess I was really motivated to stay by being extremely tired and cold, but given the present risk, the small chance the kids had to be alive jumped to a second place, being the first one the well being of everybody involved in the rescue.
A group of
policemen, arms ready and with no lights (as they asked us to be)
We slept there
and the next day, after writing and filing all the reports, we
We arrived at 8 am to Mexico City, where we dropped the locals. After having breakfast at the Proteccion Civil guy, we started driving to San Luis Potosi, where we arrived at 4 pm.