The entrance to the Son Doong cave in central Vietnam. The human in the bottom right of the picture gives a sense of the size of the cave. Photo: Douglas KnuthThe entrance to the Son Doong cave in central Vietnam. The human in the bottom right of the picture gives a sense of the size of the cave.
Travel & Leisure
Thai cave hero divers explore Vietnam tunnel that could be part of the world’s biggest cave system
Rick Stanton, Jason Mallinson and Chris Jewell were part of the team who rescued the trapped Thai youth soccer team last year
The divers descended into a flooded pit in the Son Doong cave in Vietnam, a place so vast it has its own weather patterns.
Three divers who helped rescue a Thai soccer team last year have made a fresh discovery in Vietnam, where they explored a tunnel that could expand the footprint of the world’s largest cave.
The team was invited to descend into a waterlogged pit in the Son Doong cave in central Vietnam that has never been explored and is believed to connect to nearby chambers.
They were forced back at 77 metres (252 feet) because they did not have enough oxygen to push further, but they think the tunnels could be 120 metres deep.
If the tunnel connects to another cave, it would make Son Doong “easily the largest cave in the world and it would never be overtaken”, British cave expert Howard Limbert, who helped organise the dive, said at a press conference announcing the find.
Divers prepare their equipment during an expedition in Vietnam’s Son Doong cave. Photo: Oxalis Adventure Tours/AFP
Divers prepare their equipment during an expedition in Vietnam’s Son Doong cave.
The three divers – Rick Stanton, Jason Mallinson and Chris Jewell – were part of the daring rescue to save 12 Thai footballers and their coach who was trapped in a cave for 18 days last year.
Stanton – who found the boys on a ledge – says the painstaking task of safely leading the group out of the tunnel alive helped to prepare for the mission in Vietnam.
British diver Jason Mallinson, who took part in the Thai cave rescue missions, at a press conference on Vietnam’s Son Doong cave.
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“Our planning and preparation are without parallel,” he says.
The team plans to return to Vietnam next year to try to link the tunnel to another cave near Son Doong, which is so big that it has its own ecosystem and weather patterns.
The cave in central Quang Binh province was first found by a local forager in 1991 but was not rediscovered for another 19 years because its entrance was hidden by thick surrounding jungle.
A diver swims underwater during an expedition in Vietnam’s Son Doong cave.
Only 30 per cent of Vietnam’s Phong Nha national park – where Son Doong and a network of adjacent caves are located – has so far been explored.
Son Doong is the world’s largest cave by volume, big enough to house a New York city block – including 40-storey skyscrapers – according to Oxalis, which runs tours into the caves.
A proposal to build a cable car in the area has sparked anger among the Vietnamese public, who fear it will harm the area’s wildlife and pristine views.
An official said this week there were no plans to move ahead with the project despite offers from several companies.
“That is only in theory, in truth, to build a cable car there is no such project yet,” said the vice-chairman of Quang Binh province Tran Thien Dung.
Vietnam’s tourism industry is booming among domestic and foreign travellers alike, but the communist country has come under fire for failing to preserve landscapes as it rapidly expands the sector.