Woman rescued from NM cave reflects, watches Thailand rescue closely

New Mexico

The world is celebrating the rescue of 12 soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand. Twenty-seven years ago, a similar situation unfolded right here in New Mexico. 

Back in 1991, the eyes of the world were watching a cave rescue down in a remote part of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. At the center of it, was then 40-year-old career caver Emily Davis.

“It was a time when people were discovering new passages all over the cave,” said Davis. 

Beyond the great rooms of Carlsbad Caverns, are hundreds of miles of unexplored passages. On this expedition, Davis was in part of the caverns called the Lechuguilla Cave. 

“One of the handholds, a rock I was gripping to help pull myself up, broke loose and came down and hit me in the knee,” said Davis. 

Davis instantly knew her knee was badly injured and making it out on her own wasn’t a possibility. But even though this experienced caver was hurt, she wasn’t scared. 

“It was severe embarrassment,” said Davis. 

More than 25 years after her own daring rescue, Davis found herself glued to the coverage coming out of Thailand. 

“I was hoping but my stomach was in a knot all week,” said Davis. 

Miraculously, all the boys and their coach made it out alive. Though, one of the Thai Navy Seals trying to save them did not. 

“We lost a rescuer and that was a tragedy,” said Davis.

When the boys were rescued, she anxiously awaited to hear if everyone in the cave made it out.

“Until I heard all the rescuers were out of the cave I didn’t get any relief,” said Davis. 

Davis has great respect for rescuers, including the 200 who spent four days saving her.

They loaded her onto a stretcher and hoisted her up hundred foot drops. They made it to the surface in the middle of the night. 

“It’s the friendship and the comradery that stick with me. That, and a little arthritis in my left knee,” said Davis. 

Davis went through a year of physical therapy to repair her knee, and exactly one year later went back to Lechuguilla.

With her then, is a man who now helps run Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

“I actually invited Emily after her rescue on one of my expeditions. So she was with me out in the same area where she broke her leg. We were the first to map out a passage and we named it the anniversary passage,” said Rod Herrocks, the Chief Resource Manager at CCNP.

Herrocks says they only have a cave rescue about every three to five years in the Guadalupe Mountains. 

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