HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Our state is home to over 4,000 caves with more than half of them in Madison and Jackson County. A non-profit volunteer group is keeping cavers safe through education and emergency rescue services.
The Land Trust of North Alabama allows the Huntsville Cave Rescue Unit to train at 'Three Caves,' a man-made quarry; and other sites so they can avoid dangerous situations like the one in Thailand, in our area. 'Three Caves' is normally a no-trespassing area.
The organization trains regularly simulating situations in and out of caves. They prepare for horizontal and vertical caves and underlined the difficulty of wet versus dry caves.
"It's a lot more challenging. You go through some tight areas in wet caves that may have low airspace where you just have a few inches to keep your face against the ceiling to breathe," said Brian Bailey, chief of operations for the Huntsville Cave Rescue Unit.
A high water situation they've rescued someone from before. "We had to wait several hours to be able to get in and them bring the patient out," recalled Bailey.
Precision and accuracy are crucial for this emergency service group. "We've had several calls this year," explained Dan Mattle, chairman of the Huntsville Cave Rescue Unit.
Practicing techniques to rescue people from an exploration gone wrong. "Most of them are pretty calm and they're glad to see you," said Bailey. Glad, that the organization exists.
"More of the training we do is in the verticle caving techniques and how to get on rope and rappel down into the caves, and then how to get back out because we climb ropes not rocks," explained Mattle, though they have a full list of courses and have the only National Fire Protection Association 1006 Certified Class in the country and are Alabama Fire College sanctioned.
Huntsville Cave Rescue Unit says they save on average two people a year, already saving someone this year at Tumbling Rock in Jackson County. "A lot of them are because people are ill-prepared and they don't have the right equipment and there are some, where they are pure accidents," said Mattle.
They say it's important to stay prepared with the proper equipment, supplies and clothing, travel in groups of four or more and don't enter caves that are off-limits.
An extensive and complex operation in Thailand saved twelve boys and their soccer coach during the monsoon season from a dark abyss.
While Alabama does not experience the same kind of flooding, this group of brave men and women have had to perform difficult rescues in high-water situations.
"We looked where we were in the cave and the time frame we had and said, we can do it. So we made it happen and we did get them out and heavy thunderstorms were pounding as we got the patient out of the cave," recalled Mattle.
They live by the 'golden day,' rather than the 'golden hour,' for a successful rescue. For every hour a caver is in, it takes ten hours to get them out. "Hypothermia, is usually the worst that can happen to somebody from being in for a long period of time," said Bailey.
The Huntsville Cave Rescue Unit says one of their rescues took 36 hours and 100 people to save a caver.
So they teach and practice, hoping to educate those with an inherent curiosity and getting more people ready for when the call comes.
You can learn more about how to join, donate or learn from the Huntsville Cave Rescue Unit on their website. You can also join the Huntsville Grotto with the National Speleological Society on their website or Facebook page.
As a reminder, Three Caves is a no trespassing area. Huntsville cave rescue unit is only here under special permission.