Ive been a PADI certified diver for over 25 years now. I actually did my PADI Open Water check out dive in Blue Hole Spring in Bradenton FL (pictured below) and my Advanced Open Water cert off Cozumel a couple of years later. I was obsessed with diving for a few years logging hundreds of dives in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and South Pacific. Its one of the main reasons Ive traveled to as many places as I have. I originally planned to get my Cave Diver cert but did not...for a reason
That whole area around Bradenton in FL is laced with similar holes and underground springs that create a network of underwater caves. In spite of it being in FL it really is an area with a lot of natural beauty
There are literally hundreds of fresh water springs that are connected to to that network and you can usually tell there's a cave because of the dark spot in the water. Some spill into rivers, some eventually into the ocean
Anyway the point is that at each of these springs that have access to a cave network they post signs:
Why? Because its incredibly fucking difficult and incredibly fucking dangerous...even with extensive training (as the death of the Thai Seal diver demonstrates)
Open water scuba diving is generally very very safe with relatively little training. Cave diving however is incredibly dangerous even with a lot of training. I learned this the hard way and had two close calls
One of my dive buddies (Dave) back in the day, a guy I did dozens of dives with was close friends with another guy (Todd) that was a certified Cave Diver (CD) and he in turn knew several other CD's.
Long story short Dave and I once tagged along for a low key cave dive in spring near Manatee Springs (I lived in Miami at the time) . These 4 guys had dozens of cave dives between them and fully geared. There were 6 of us with Dave and I being the only ones not certified CD's but Todd vouched for our competence as divers....(classic recipe for disaster
We were in a cave that had an entrance in spring with only about 20 ft of depth. The cave was pretty open and the stretch we were in never got deeper than around 50 -60 ft. The dive plan called for us to only go in to the first "chamber" which was less than 100 yards from the cave entrance at the bottom of the spring. I was 3rd in line with two CD's in front of me, Dave behind me and the other two CD's bring up the rear. When we went in we were swimming against the mild current and pulling on an established guide line as this was a frequently dived cave.
We made it to the first chamber uneventfully, took a few photos, the designated dive master indicated it was time to go back with the same 10 foot spacing as on the way in. About a minute into the return swim I hear the 3 metallic raps that was our agreed upon signal to stop (divers commonly tap their air tank with their dive knife to signal other divers). The two guys in front of me stop and turn around to look. Before I could turn to look behind me there was a cloud of silt that enveloped me and almost instantly blinded me.
It went from something like this :
and it happened in 2-3 seconds
I learned later that Dave who was behind me had kicked the bottom with his fin(a big no no) and the current sent the silt cloud down the tunnel towards the guys in front. What was up to that point a very cool and exciting experience turn instantly terrifying as the lights that were all had were useless in the silt cloud and I could literally not see my hand in front of my face. It was extremely disorienting and scary. I remember telling myself "dont panic or you'll die" and "dont let go of the guide cable or you'll die"...over and over again. It was an intense 1 to maybe 2 minutes before the current cleared enough of the silt that we could see and continue.
I had another incident in a cave later on where I simply turned my head and a rock snagged my regulator hose and yanked the regulator out of my mouth un-unexpectedly. It was only out of my mouth for about 10 seconds before my training kicked in and I recovered the regulator but a second encounter with me forcing myself not to panic in order not die was enough to convince me that, as cool as cave diving is, it wasn't for me.
Its not some major thing that can go wrong but rather the millions of little things that you could never even think of but with deadly consequences that make cave diving so dangerous
The thought of how to navigate this complex network, narrow with a kid that has no training whatsoever and cant even swim is unimaginable.
Is this impossible? No. But its incredibly difficult proposition.
The good news is there are hundreds of years of experience coming together in order create a detailed plan and then execute it. I'm hopeful and optimistic that human ability and spirit will get these kids out safely