HORSE CAVE, KY (WAVE) – It was a competition against the clock and rising water and a quest to save lives for three police officers assisting in the rescue of a tour group trapped in a flooded cave.
Horse Cave Police Department was dispatched to Hidden River Cave on a call of trapped tourists due to flash flooding. Nineteen students from Clemson University and four tour guides went into the Hidden River Cave and American Cave Museum at about 11 a.m. Thursday, according to Kentucky State Police.
Due to a heavy storm, water was cut off passages and access points, Hart County EMA director Kerry McDaniel said. The group was stranded in a portion of the cave called the attic, which KSP said has a higher ceiling.
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Horse Cave Police Department Chief Sean Henry, along with Officer Mike Sivert and Officer Larry Dale Martin, entered the cave to attempt the rescue. The biggest setback - the officers had no training in Hidden River Cave.
"Our first instinct was to hit the water," Sivert said.
"It hardest part was not knowing how far the cave go, how many people do we actually have, do we have children in here," Sivert said.
The water started at their ankles, but soon became waist deep. The officers' only wish was to hear more voices.
"That is what you do," Sivert said. "You don't think, you don't react, you just do it."
A bad situation got even worse, Officer Sivert was forced out of the cave to assist with 85 other emergency responders outside of the cave.
"I lost contact with Officer Martin and Chief Henry which was a big concern," Sivert said.
As for Martin and Henry, there was no turning back.
"You don't know how everyone is doing and you are worried somebody could be dead," Henry said.
On the outside of the cave was a swarm of unanswered questions.
"When you lose contact, you can't see, you can't hear, there is obviously no lighting," Sivert said. "All you have is flash lights and Martin lost his flash light and portable was gone."
Then, the only two officers left inside, became separated inside of a cave they had never
been trained to enter.
"I think the toughest part was not knowing how long it was going to take," Henry said. "It could take 10 hours or it could take three hours, you just don't know."
Minutes later, Henry was able to swim to a tour guide, who was also scouring for the group.