- Cave exploration

Sanctum Movie 3D

‘Sanctum’ the movie, a James Cameron 3D extravaganza, will be released in the cinemas come February 2011. For now, we can get a glimpse of what lies ahead by watching the just released Sanctum movie trailer. Sanctum is a movie about cave divers and the thrill of exploration and adventure inside cave systems. It investigates the psychological strains on team members of an expedition when it all goes horribly wrong.

The basic plot line is that a bunch of cave divers get stuck in a cave due to a torrential downpour and the only way out of the situation is to delve further into the cave system in the hope of finding an alternative exit. They fight raging water, deadly terrain and creeping panic as they search for an unknown escape route to the sea.

Too dramatic… too Hollywood I hear you say? Well, I have to disagree with you. Underwater, inside caves, whatever can go wrong often does go wrong… and when it all goes pear shaped, it does so in a most spectacular fashion. The room for error is small indeed when it comes to cave diving and a serious mistake can cost you your life.

We, as cave divers, all like to think that cave diving is a safe sport and that nothing will harm us down there but the reality isn’t quite so rosy. A lot can go wrong underwater and inside a cave. We tend to assume that if we follow the cave diving rules, grab three of everything and get proper training we will be saved from certain demise. Indeed, a diver with proper cave training and the right equipment has much better chances for survival than an open water diver who ventures into the underwater cave environment with little to no idea of the hazards. But cave diving is not the same as going for a walk in the park, there are risks involved and if you for one second think that you are completely safe, you are in complete and total denial and an accident waiting to happen.

Any of the cave divers involved in the making of the movie can reel off stories of close calls and misadventure when diving inside caves. Perhaps none are more spectacular and definitive however, than Andrew Wight’s experience out in the Australian Nullarbor Plains in 1988. Andrew was part of a team exploring Pannikin Plains cave when a freak storm caused the cave to collapse trapping 13 people.

The Nullabor is an arid, desert like environment and yet on that faithful day the storm was so severe it dumped a year’s worth of rain in just 20 minutes. The cave acted as a drain and all that water poured into the hole and caused the cave entrance to collapse. Thousands of pounds of rubble descended on the team and they lost a whole lot of gear that was buried underneath the avalanche, but miraculously no one was hurt. Eventually, after a couple of days the team was able to dig their way out – they were extremely lucky. It is no surprise that the experience has left a lasting impression on Andrew Wight and as such, it is not surprising that he was the producer of the Sanctum movie.

If you still think that the idea of divers being trapped inside a cave is too far fetched, you only have to look back a few weeks to realize that danger in caves is ever present. Early in October, a French diver Eric Establie was trapped inside the underground gorges of the Ard├Ęche by a cave collapse and he, unfortunately, did not make it out. Accidents in caves do happen and to think otherwise is simply ignoring reality.

Getting trapped inside a cave is probably many people’s worst nightmare; no matter how you look at it, it is not an appealing concept. In the case of Sanctum, once the dive team is trapped, what then? Well, sometimes you just have one of those days. The characters of the movie have to push themselves beyond the limits of endurance in order to survive. When things go wrong cave diving, they go dramatically wrong. We all know about the snowball effect; what starts out as a series of small problems can often snowball into a more serious and catastrophic problem if left unchecked. In diving accidents it is never just one thing that gets you, it is often a number of consecutive small errors that eventually leads to your demise. The movie stays true to this idea.

The main character, Frank McGuire, is the leader of the expedition and when it comes to cave diving and pushing new cave systems he is the best there is. Arguably it is Frank’s unrelenting drive, his determination and his decision to keep pushing the cave regardless of the costs and the risks involved that lead the team into trouble. The ambition he displays, his single mindedness, his passion for cave exploration; these are not uncommon traits within cave diving circles and in fact are necessary within those who push the envelope of cave exploration. When watching Frank on the big screen, you see a reflection of many cave diving explorers of today and yesteryear.

Personally I don’t just identify other cave divers within Frank’s personality and persona, I also see myself. So this leads me to an interesting and by the way, rhetorical thought; will my willingness to sacrifice everything and my drive for pushing cave systems one day endanger the lives of fellow team members? Well, let’s hope I have less in common with Frank than I think. The big question remains, will Frank’s willpower, experience and leadership be enough to get his team safely out of the cave? To find out, well, you just have to go see the movie.

Seeing it on the big screen in 3D will be one hell of a ride and any cave diver should make this a must see flick – I can’t wait till February 2011!