This is the second part of the story so if you haven’t read the first part just click here.
I now know what perceptual narrowing is. All I could think about was getting out, my life, my children and that’s when I really started to kick and struggle. That’s when I started to fight for my life. My controlled movement, previously so precise, became forceful & aggressive. I pulled and clawed and twisted. In the process the inflator stopped inflating but I was so far gone by this point that I barely noticed. I was still stuck and didn’t want to be there anymore.
I don’t know what changed other than my newfound desperation but somehow I started to move forward with the wing still fully inflated. Slowly, slowly, slowly scratching & dragging my way forwards totally focused on the surface. And at last I finally escaped the clutches of the rift and stood exhausted in a phone box sized chamber – spat my regulator out and sucked in air gratefully. As I looked up I could see a narrowing aven with no passage above me. In front of me was a decorated rimstone pool about 30cm above the water level. Behind the pool there was a shoe box sized decorated passage tapering off to nothing within 2-3 m. I looked down at myself. Still breathing hard I noticed a palm sized tear out of suit thigh. My dry suit was full of water. The top of my hand was lacerated and bleeding. And at this point I didn’t care about either – other than exiting back through where I came I was probably never going to scuba dive again.
I didn’t waste much time as I knew I was traumatized by what I had just escaped from. Oddly I didn’t consider that I wouldn’t be able to get back through where I’d just been stuck. I checked the air in my cylinders, knelt down, turned on my side and inserted myself into the jaws of the rift. It was tight, as before, but not as tight as when the wing was inflated. I then slowly pushed & wriggled back along the passage unit I reached the entrance pool and crawled out on all fours exhausted, upset and very very relieved.
As I said at the start, as a community we use accident analysis to help us avoid similar mistakes. I’m not proud of this experience. It has significantly dented my passion for cave diving which as I said before I see as the real purpose for getting underwater. That’s the cost of my experience to me and by reading this I hope you can avoid a similar or worse fate.
You’ll form your own conclusions about what occurred but beyond the cursory: naive; turn back sooner; don’t solo dive; over confident & try to exhale points I’d like to share the less obvious lessons that are particular to me –:
1) Just because you are a small build & flexible & in well dived caves can fit through anything that someone else has been through first does not mean that in new cave you will always fit.
2) Cave diving training does not always prepare you for exploration (nor does it claim to – ed)
3) It’s easy to ruin the thing you love with a stupid mistake & fear does exist underwater
Editors note – A couple of days after I first read Alex’s story I emailed him asking “so…..was there a way on?” he answered “Not unless I deploy my 3 year old…..”