Raleigh diver talks about cave diving risks as Thai rescue is underway

Wake County News

Art Alexander, who has experience diving through shipwreck sites, serves as a diving instructor at Raleigh’s Carolina Dive Center.

“It’s the graveyard of the Atlantic,” he says of wrecked ships off the Carolina coast. “Everything from the Blackbeard era that they actually started opening up in the last couple of years, to modern times.”

But Alexander said there’s still one method of diving he hasn’t gotten into — cave diving.

“Cave diving is one of those fields where the mortality rate is fairly high,” he said. “Just because doing everything right, things go wrong.”

He said cave diving includes possible risks such as visibility issues and air consumption. 

“They lose their lines, their air goes loose, they run out of air, they got lost, there’s potential cave-in risks in certain cases, getting stuck,” Alexander said.

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One issue is even trying to fit through tight spaces. 

“It’s not uncommon to have to take your gear off and have to pass it through channels, which is something we wouldn’t do in a wreck most of the time,” Alexander said.

Alexander said cave divers wear a certain type of harness, while carrying more equipment than usual. These types of equipment include a reel to track their way in and out of a cave, a dive computer that can tell how far deep they are, and different kinds of lights.

“When we’re diving in the ocean, we’re usually, even on really deep wrecks, or really deep reefs, we’re not far,” he said. “In terms of logistics from the boat, the boat or the shore, you can usually get other supplies to you, or you can return to home base if something goes wrong. If you’re a couple of miles deep in a cave, you’re completely relying on yourself or your dive buddy, or your dive team.”

As four boys are now out with the rescue in Thailand underway, Alexander has high hopes crews will get the remaining team members out safe. 

“I do optimistically look at this having a lot of groundbreaking techniques, or things that they can use as precedent in the future,” he said.

“The notion of pulling a bunch of uncertified people, but also children, through what is essentially the elite of diving, and making them get all the way through it safely, that’s a pretty impressive feat. If they pull that off, they’re going to be pioneering some techniques, and using a whole lot of creativity to do it,” Alexander said.

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