The Current

Stuck 'like a cork' in the Bastard's Crawl, a Canadian caver's 18-hour ordeal to stay alive

As efforts to rescue a young soccer team from a cave in Thailand continue, an experienced caver recounts a harrowing experience, and why even a brush with death won't stop him from exploring.

Caver says being together will help Thai boys cope

Jason Storie in the Bastard's Crawl. When he encountered trouble there in 2015, his friend Andrew Munoz never gave up on him. (Andrew Munoz)

Read story transcript

Andrew Munoz knows what the young soccer team trapped in a Thai cave is going through because he's lived through a similarly harrowing experience.

In 2015, Munoz and his friends were 200 feet underground, exploring Cascade, a cave system on Vancouver Island. His friend, Jason Storie, was crawling through gushing water in a small passage, but he didn't know if he should go left or right. When he turned to ask Munoz for directions, he got stuck.

"The force of the water sucked him into this narrow constriction, and the water started to pour over him," said Munoz, a paramedic and experienced caver. "He was basically stuck right up to his ears in freezing water."

See what it's like inside a cave

This is what it's like to be trapped inside a cave

5 years ago
Duration 1:22
Caver Andrew Munoz was stuck inside a cave with his friend Jason Storie, and captured the ordeal nearly in its entirely on camera.

Storie got stuck "like a cork" in an hourglass-like section dubbed Bastard's Crawl, a nod to the tight squeeze to move from one large space to another.

"He was definitely struggling — he was fighting for his life," Munoz told The Current's guest host Mike Finnerty.

What followed was a harrowing 18-hour ordeal, and one that has been on Munoz's mind as he watches the situation in Thailand.

The children and their coach had being missing for 10 days when they were found Monday, but efforts to bring them to the surface have been complicated by the fact the boys can't swim. Munoz thinks their being together will help them cope.

"Luckily, we were together and I think the fact that all these boys are together as a team is really helpful.

"I couldn't imagine what it would be like to be by yourself."

The Bastard's Crawl

Munoz and Storie, who both live in Duncan, B.C., were exploring Cascade — named for its large chambers with beautiful waterfalls — with four friends in December 2015. It's a complicated system, about a kilometre and a half long and 338 feet deep. It's closed to casual cavers with a locked metal hatch that you can only get the key for by signing a waiver.

(Kevin Kirk/CBC)

After several hours exploring, the group decided to turn back, but that's when Storie got into trouble.

The camera on Munoz's helmet captured the tense moments where he tried to help his friend break free, while water rushed around them.

Watch the tense exchange between the two cavers

Tense exchange between cavers stuck in narrow passage

5 years ago
Duration 0:28
Andrew Munoz encourages his friend Jason Storie to crawl after the caver gets stuck in a narrow passage inside a Vancouver Island cave.

After several minutes, he managed to get his friend's leg free. They made their way back down into the large chamber, but this was just the beginning.

"I knew that Storie had been through a way worse experience than I had ... and I was going to do my best to get him out of there."

Storie descends into the Cascade cave system. The entrance is through a metal hatch sunk in the forest floor, locked to deter casual cavers. (Andrew Munoz)

18-hour ordeal

The Bastard's Crawl was still just barely passable, but the water was rising and Storie was in no shape to make it through. Munoz gathered some equipment, and told their friends to go on and alert a rescue team.

"He'd been in the water for almost 15 minutes at that point and was starting to progress into the first stages of hypothermia," Munoz said. Using a small stove, he heated up some water and poured it into Storie's suit, then wrapped him in a Mylar blanket.

They were stuck near the top of the waterfall, on a 6-feet by 6-feet ledge, sloping out and down at a 45-degree angle. It was too dangerous to try to descend to the base of the chamber where the water was rising.

Storie shows a friend the ledge where he and Munoz spent 18 hours trapped by the flood. The river is reduced to only a trickle in the spring and summer. (Andrew Munoz)

They turned their headlamps off to save battery power and sat braced against that wall — in total darkness — for almost 18 hours.

The search and rescue team had made it to some 35 feet of their position, he said, but the force of the water meant they couldn't hear them or see their lights.

"You're more remote than Mount Everest, basically. I mean, you might as well be on the moon."

A few inches to breathe

Around 6:30 a.m., they noticed the water turbulence had subsided just enough to make another attempt. But the cold and effort of staying on the ledge for so long had left Storie in bad shape. As they made their way out, he had to lift his legs into position.

"You'd hear him scream out in pain as he hauled his body up step by step, higher and higher," Munoz said.

"By scraping your right ear against the roof of the cave, with your left ear in the water, there's maybe three and a half or four inches of air.

Slowly, the men inched their way out of the cave, but on their way they made a surreal discovery. Rescuers who had spent hours looking for them had retreated to rest, but left their equipment behind.

Jason Storie and Andrew Munoz returned to the cave a year after their ordeal. (Gina Daggett)

"When I found those equipment bags I said to Storie: 'I know in here there's sleeping bags and hot soup, and stoves, and all I want to do is crawl into one of those bags and wait.'"

"But Storie said: 'No, if it's all the same to you, I want to keep moving,' and I obviously was committed to sticking with him, and we ended up making it all the way back to the entrance."

The men were met with what Munoz called a very Canadian moment: Tim Horton's coffee and Timbits. In the hours that followed, he ate three breakfasts and was scolded by his wife.

They were lucky, he said, but he still goes caving. In fact, he and Storie have been back to Cascade and have recreated their ordeal.

"The lure of adventure and exploration and discovery is just too strong."

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.

Written by Padraig Moran. This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino, Willow Smith and Julie Crysler.