BLOWING HOLE CAVE UNDERWATER SURVEY TRIP-REST IN PEACE TIM McLAIN

November 27, 2013

Rest In Peace Tim McLain

Laura Sangaila picked me up from work and we started to head out to Indiana for a weekend of...wait hold on.....You know what?.. this is not a typical trip report and this was not a typical weekend of caving activities.   A trip into the Binkley's cave system through the Blowing Hole cave section was a trip to explore a sump 3 miles into this cave which had signs showing that the underwater passage may come up to a low air space passage that could have continued to reward us with discovering brand new cave to explore.   The exploratory journey unfolded and as we were approaching the last bit of river passage to the sump, we had experienced a tragedy that would effect the caving community and activate a large scale assemblage of our fellow brother and sister cavers in what would become a historic event for the American caving community. 
We made it to Chris's house to get a good nights sleep and get ready for this trip.  We got up early and meet up in Corydon IN at Fredricks café with Dave Everton, Gary Roberson, Laura Young, April McKay, Nick Benton, Tim McLain, Rand Heazlitt, and Seth Gower.  We all had breakfast and discussed our plan to bring the gear into the cave while Gary talked about the sump with me.  Gary described this sump as a typical side passage with mud banks and flat ceiling that ends in a shelf with the water rising to the ceiling and the floor dropping down..   He estimated the dimensions to be low to the point where we will be ceiling walking and any movement would stir up the already silted water to a state where we will have zero viz.  I was more concerned about bumping the tanks into breakdown boulders that I can't see in the zero viz which might create a rupture resulting in a free flow.  There is a host of other concerns but this is what I was initially thinking about.
We finished up with breakfast and everyone was fired up to get in the cave and help assist with gear handling so we could get to the sump for the dive. Tim was really excited to be assisting the trip and finding out what was beyond the sump. He told me he felt that we are taking the project to a new level by diving inside the cave to look for new cave.  Tim was a guy that loved to find new passage and would push hard while dragging caving gear through the muddiest and most grueling squeeze passages cavers can imagine to find more passages inside caves.  Ask any of us and we would all say Tim is one of those guys you knew would be right behind you exploring a new passage or getting into a nasty crawl. I remember when we went to Devils Graveyard cave and Tim was telling me that this cave is just to beautiful to end so he went down and continued to look for passage opportunities. Blowing Hole Cave was one of Tim's favorite caves and he helped to make the connection from Binkley's Cave to Blowing Hole Cave that extended the Indiana Speleological Survey Binkley Project for miles.  This connection made the Binkley System the 11th longest cave in the United States.
  We get to the landowners house and set some cars at the top of the property where the landowners house was so we were able to drive down in 4x4 trucks to the bottom and park close the entrance of the cave.  Chris and I went through a gear check and a dive gear check including our route and gas management plan to make sure we had everything so if we need to make any changes, now is the time to do that. We wanted make sure everything was working before we would bring it into the cave.  Furthermore, we took some gear out that we did not need and we were able to lighten the load a bit more from that.  Afterwards, we completed packing the bags and started to assign them to the team. 

Chris parks going through diving gear while Laura Sangaila, Tim Mclain and Dave Everton prepare to enter the cave.  Gary Robertson is overlooking the preparation.
Dave helped with the distribution as we wanted to make sure some of the new comers didn't carry as much and make sure everyone else was carrying an equally sized load.   We had 8 people on the trip which made the load pretty light for everyone. Additionally, we were able to float the gear most of the way which made the trip that much easier.  Chris and I brought sidemounts for the cave dive with two steel 45s and two AL 30s in protection travel containers with over pressure relief openings in case of an air leak.  This worked great as we were able to float the tanks, protect them, and add straps to them so we were able to carry the tanks like packs. We had our gas management plan established, our dive plan, and assigned reels with knots at 10 ft. intervals to each other to measure the sump distance. I had a pelican dry box to fit my camera in, so we could get pictures of mermaids and monsters that were waiting for us on the other side of the sump.

Everything checked out so we headed to the entrance to make our push into the Blowing Hole Cave. 
Initially the water was pretty cold, I estimate that the temp was around 48 degrees.  After passing the historic raft room and entering the main river passage, the water warmed up to a beautiful 54 degrees with the air temp of a humid 54 degrees.  The river was a standard meandering river with a flat ceiling and mud banks from side to side.  On occasion,  we would run into a formation section here and there, but the cave was mainly river with sleepers underwater.  These sleepers are slippery boulders that bite your wetsuit and can throw you off balance. It is essential to have a walking stick so you can feel for them instead of having your falling knees bang into them. I went ahead and walked past the group that was behind everyone else to a small waterfall trickling over some small rimstone dams and Tim was sitting there by himself.  I sat down with him and we talked about how its nice to be alone in the cave from time to time listening to the waters echoing trickle.  We also talked about what might be on the other side of the sump.  He told me that he wanted to hold his breath and go in if it wasn't to far.  I said I'll make sure I send one of the Mermaids back out to tell you that you can come in, but you can only come in if a mermaid comes and tells you so.  He said that if a Mermaid comes popping out than he is staying right where he is at with the Mermaid and not letting her go!!.... with that famous smile on his face..!!...   I thought that was hilarious when he told me that. 

We continued on to a narrow section where we were about to approach the waterfall and enter the upper level.  So we took a break and waited for the rest of the crew.  I got my camera out to prepare it for the cave environment as well as to adjust the settings to make sure I had everything dialed in.   I took this picture of Tim and April.

Adjusting my camera in blowing hole cave with Tim Mclain and April Mckay, My last picture of Tim Mclain
Now I could only imagine that if I had my settings dialed in right and got a better picture how much more impactful this picture could have been but I cant do anything about that now, at least I got a nice picture of Tim looking like a bad ass!!.  Afterwards Laura, Seth, and Chris came swimming up and I got a picture of them too.
Laura Young, Seth Gower, and Chris Parks swiming to the breakdown pile Blowing Hole Cave

 the camera was fogging but it was better that it was adjusting to the climate now than later, at least that is what I was thinking at the time.

Chris Parks Chilling in Blowing Hole Cave
we continued on and one by one, we made it through the twisting, meander of breakdown to the final small squeeze where 5 or 6 small waterfalls were pouring around us.  It was beautiful!!! amazing. 
Multi drop waterfall breakdown squeeze passage Blowing Hole Cave

Each of us popped out one at a time into a nice breakdown room and into the upper passage of Blowing Hole Cave.  I snapped a couple pictures in this room but I wanted to get to the sump to complete the dive, than, as we were coming back out, take some more pictures. 

Breakdown pile in waterfall room

We went over breakdown piles and into the upper passage river.  The water appeared to be a bit colder but we didn't mind as we kept moving through while being grateful that we were not bumping into any sleeper rocks under the water.  Tim noticed a small water trickle coming out of a hole in the ceiling and briefly wondered where that small hole was coming from.  We continued to float upstream, the water got deeper, and as we continued upstream, we found a spot where the low ceiling air space was encountered.  This is the Beginning of the "moisturizer room".  We were in chest high water with a low air "duck under"  ahead of us which was only for a brief 6-7ft that came back up to stand up air passage. I went in first so I could guide Laura Sangaila and the rest of the group through but she went the smarter route and found another, easier, way to get through. I guess I was eager to get underwater already but Laura wiggled through to the other side.  Dave came under the low ceiling and as Dave was waiting for the next person to come through, that's when we heard the screaming. 

Laura Young was screaming Tim's name and yelling for us to come back.  She was saying Tim is going through some kind of medical condition and we need to get over there quick.  I heard Tim moaning and I thought he was going through some sort of  reaction or seizure type episode.  I came back through the duck under and I see Laura Young holding Tim in the water. Laura wasn't sure what to do but she was trying to give him CPR.  Dave and I came to assist Laura and I checked his Airway, Breathing, and Circulation for any kind of sign.  I didn't get any response so I started administering CPR to Tim after we found a place where we could administer CPR.  I had Seth hold his helmet I found in the water and my gear while they held him horizontal.
  I checked his eyes, his breathing, his pulse and did everything in my power to bring him back to us. I knew when the time came after 15 minutes that I had to get out of the cave to activate the state and dispatch cave rescue so we could get everyone else out of the cave before Hypothermia set in as well as bring Tim out of the cave. These moments I will never forget, I couldn't believe that just a few minutes ago Tim was having fun and laughing than I am holding him doing everything I can to bring him back to us, but I just couldn't do it.  I was beside myself for a few seconds in dis belief and shocked.   Here we are, almost three miles into a cave system with tight squeeze passageways and 54 degree cold water with people in shock, confused and not believing what just happened.  To me, it felt like some kind of cardiac event happened and I had to shift into a mode where getting out of this cave to activate rescue and getting my friends out of this cave was my new priority.   Having dive rescue experience, I understand Hypothermia pretty well and if Hypothermia and mental anguish set in, they could start to go down hill without even realizing it.  I grabbed Nick and we gracefully but carefully got out of the cave in about an hour! We left our gear inside the cave, all of it, so we could move quick. We had to be careful as the boulders under the water could grab our feet and twist, fracture, or even brake a bone with one wrong move.  Staying calm was in demand and steadfast calculated moves were focused on as we traversed out.   I openly discussed with Nick what happened so we could talk and make sense of things. I knew I needed my mind right and his mind right so we can act fast when we were out. Nick and I discussed that he would call state while I called NCRC so when I got about a 1000 ft from the entrance and I told nick I am going to bolt on out of here and make the calls.
 I got out of the cave, ran to the car, grabbed my phone and started the calls.  I guess my mistake was that I should have called state first but I called laura so she could call my grotto chair Phil Goldman, who can call Roy Becker, who can call Anmar.  So one call was like making four calls to "need to know" people.  Than I called Danyele Cottrell so she can tell Tymme Laun, than I called Kevin Romanak.  While I was on the phone with Kevin the landowners dog almost attacked me so I yelled at the dog to get back and the landowner came out asking me what's wrong .  I asked her if she can call 911 as Nick was running up the hill. The local EMTs showed up and they asked questions about what happened.  They said that we had to wait for the DNR to show up.  We waited and waited until the DNR came as well as other conservation officers.   I gave them the info and suggested they need to get 5mm wetsuits, flotation rafts staged inside the cave and people mobilized because there were other people in the cave that might be going into a state of hypothermia if we don't get back in there in time. I was able to get a cup of coffee and some soup from the landowner but I made sure I was able to get a thermos full of hot water so I could bring that back into the cave for my group inside the cave to warm their core.  Rand and Gary showed up so they were able to handle the DNR a bit.  As I was assembling my spearhead team to get back there Dave Everton, Laura Sangaila, and April McKay came into the house. THANK GOD!!!!  Three came back and are safe, but there were three more to walk out and I was determined to get back there.  Ryan Cox showed up so we got a group of three strong cavers, suited up, and I made my second trip back into the cave to get everyone else out.
While in the cave with Rand and Ryan,  I talked to them about what happened and other times I would be swiftly getting around bends and ahead of the group.  I felt like a dick but I was thinking about what everyone else was thinking being next to their friend in the cold darkness wondering what's going on at the surface.  After a couple hours, we made it back to the site. 
Chris Parks Greeted me with a hug and we brought them extra food, hot water, and warm comfort. 
From what I understand they continued to give Tim CPR for another hour,  dressed him in warm clothes, and kept him comfortable.  Thankfully I brought a MSR pocket rocket inside the cave so they could heat water which was why I brought that initially, so if people were waiting around for us when we were diving, they could heat water and pour it in their wetsuits. Yea, I know,...I'm that guy that brings more, but I felt it was the right thing to do and it turned out to be a very valuable item.  Rand and Ryan stayed back so it was time to say goodbye and make our exit out of the cave.  It was hard for all of us but knowing some of his core group cared for Tim while the next group showed up made  leaving a bit easier.  I want to thank Rand and Ryan for staying with Tim and for flashing into the cave with me.  It helped our cold cavers get out quicker.  We started to make out exit from the cave and we saw our first group.  Shane Myles, Tim Pride, and Brad Barcom.  It was quite epic for us to see that some of Tim's frontier's men came together and are now going to be carrying Tim out of the cave.  It was a moment of honor and brotherhood to me that we are more than just cavers to each other, we are a family, and as Tim's brethran faded into the upstream darkness to carry our fallen caver, that very thought, was forged with blood, sweat, and tears.  
My remaining members and I continued to exit the cave and we didn't see anyone for an hour so we started to wonder what was going on.  After about 45 minute we saw some more cavers coming through with the comm line and all fired up to help carry Tim out.  I don't remember who was in the group or what happened after we met up, but I remember feeling the fellowship has come together.  Cavers have answered the call! It is our community, the caving community, that get cavers out of caves.
Soon after, we saw team 1 and I remember Joe Kinder being there.  I don't remember much else from that encounter other than it was nice to see Joe as well as the other cavers I knew.  We continued on and found the comm line phone but Chris was unsuccessfully able to use the phone so we continued to the exit. We saw Anmar coming into the cave by himself.  I gave him our detail and we continued to proceed out of the cave. For the past 30 minutes I was observing Seth starting to succumb to the early stages of hypothermia so getting him out was a priority of mine.  Chris was crawling though the water and I was starting to slip a bit more than I should have been but we were locked in clutch and determined to get out before the cold could catch up us.  The closer we got the entrance, the colder the water became that we encountered.  The temperature dropped in the cave and a faint smell of a fire was in the air.  The thought of a fire brought warmth and comfort as we crawled over cold stone and sharp deposits of debris in the 40 something temperatures of this lifeless water passage.  We came to the final crawl where we are meandering around and the entrance was in site.  I powered through and waiting for the rest of my group to help with their gear.  An officer was waiting for us at the surface and I could see Sam Frushour clocking our times out of the cave.  One by one, we walked out into the frigid sub 20 degree weather in a frozen suck locker of a wetsuit that was just recently keeping our bodies from turning into cold blooded flesh.  I made it to the fire and felt the heat starting to soak through the neoprene as I was offered coffee and hamburgers from Nick.  I was laying there in silence and comfort knowing my group is out and in the hands of medical professionals.  I can finally relax and end my purpose while finding comfort from the warmth and protection a fire seems to bring to my body and spirit.   As the steam rose through the exposure suit I was wearing, team 2 was going in.  Walking by I saw fellow cavers, acquaintances, and friends including Jesse Houser stopping by to offer Laura Young and I comfort and assurance that Tim will be lifted and brought home with a strong enduring commitment. 
I got dressed and got a ride up to the landowners house that was turned into a disaster relief center equipped with heated debriefing rooms, EMT ambulances, flood lights around the perimeter, and a Red Cross mobile station offering snacks, water and coffee. Inside Tymme Laun and Danyele were operating the organization of teams and we had team 3 waiting to be dispatched.  I walked into this room and everyone stopped talking.  The conservation officers, DNR, fellow cave rescue and other personal looked at me in silence as I walked to the back of the room.  I gave Tymme Laun a hug and as I looked around , I was impressed with what I saw but I already had this feeling back underground that our caving community would have come together as it did. 
I checked to see how Laura S was doing and she was sleeping, I checked with Chris, Laura, and Seth to see how they were doing.  Seth just got out of the ambulance as they started to treat him with mild hypothermia.  He was still shaking at his core and when I was looking at him, I knew our steadfast determination paid off.  We operated with precision and saved our group from further anguish, fatigue, and hardship by speeding up the recovery process by the hours.

There are so many people to thank, The DNR and the county for coming together to allow Anmar and NCRC to conduct a flawless operation.  As it has been said, Cavers get Cavers out of caves.  We find comfort in some of the most extreme conditions and with our alliance, we can overcome and endeavor to achieve what others might find impossible. I want to thank Tymme and Danyele for creating the organization, I want to thank Laura, Phil, and Roy for initializing NCRC.  I want to thank the county for housing us in hotels to have a warm place to sleep. I want to thank the landowners for allowing their property to be turned into a disaster relief zone as well as for their hospitality. I want to thank our collective of brave and strong cavers that dropped what they were doing to come hours from all directions to provide a union of strength and endurance to carry our fallen caver. I want to thank Nick Benton for traveling out with me, talking with me about what happened, and staying topside as a key player for NCRC, I knew you would come right back in the cave but you helped everyone out topside!  thank you.  I also want to recognize my group Dave Everton, Chris Parks, Laura Sangaila, Laura Young, Seth Gower, Nick Benton for their bravery and strength to accomplish what was a life changing event. How you came together as a team and accomplished where others would have crumbled has made you stronger cavers and amazing team players.  You should be proud of yourselves for your accomplishments!  I know I am missing so many people but this night solidified relations with one another and brought together a new found sense of appreciation and companionship among our friends and families. 

There are a lot of people that knew Tim better than me, but when I sit back and think about Tim, I think about the hope he brought and the positive energy that he would project in his beliefs that have proven to show successful discoveries like the discoveries that the Binkley Project has benefited from with regard to miles of new cave exploration thanks to Tim McLain.  Tim's last communication to me were smiles and laughs, he even had a smile of sorts when I held him.   I can only wish I have a similar departure from life, to be among friends and family while doing something I love in a place that I admired.
 Dave put this accurately as he stated to me "Be grateful you were there with Tim, that is where he wanted to be." That message has had a lot of gravity when I heard those words from Dave because I am not only grateful to have ben there with Tim during his last moments, but it has given me a sense of enlightenment that we are the dream makers. We actually live our dreams others can only imagine and begin to imagine after reading about what we do. Its us!... Its our lifestyles, we are of what our dreams are made of and we explore our dreams with our band of brothers and sisters beside us that share in these ideals. Our bloodline runs thick in our culture. We are a rare breed that thrive to continue the discovery of what is beyond what has been left.
 Tim was that kind of guy that was prepared to go anywhere inside a cave, as long as it was forward, the kind of guy that knows there is no road preceding our foot steps and embraced that unknown as an opportunity to discover.  Some find comfort in the adventure tours that have your gear and meals set up for you as you "discover" a "wild" place, but in my opinion, the true discovery of new oceans can NOT be found unless you have the courage to lose site of the shores you came from and Tim was one of those extraordinary explorers that not only would embrace leaving those shores behind, but would demonstrate that ideal in leading by example... torch in hand, and into the darkness of our own planets deep underground world.  You are that kind of pioneer that I seek to have by my side, that kind of pioneer only a few men can live up to,  and others that can only dream of those experiences so my hat comes off to you Sir, my friend, my fellow caver,  Mr.Tim McLain.  You are a true explorer of the unknown and now you are exploring a place unknown to man and I can only imagine what you are spearheading right now. You brought happiness into the hearts of many as you will be remembered for the rest of our lives. This is how I will remember you and we will miss you Tim.
My last picture of Tim McLain (he is in the lower left) about an hour before.  We are taking a break in the breakdown room.
 





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