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Esa'ala Cave: Fact or Fiction?

Updated on April 6, 2011

Probing At The Legacy of An Adventure

You're probably here because you were left clueless whether the magnanimous cave in the new 3D flick Sanctum was for real or just simply made for the reels. I reckon its the tagline "inspired by true events" that kept us guessing till the end that eventually marked a restless point for us to search the story behind the nerve wracking scenes. Indeed, we have much to expect for since the film was produced by James Cameron, maker of big hit 3D movies like Avatar. Following the heels of this initial success is another novelty with a reality life series theme. This time, he delves into the sensibility of human survival. There are many instances in the movie, for example, where the human instinct to self-preservation is quite at play. This just kept us almost at the edge of our seats the whole time. How he wound up with this brilliant story is what we're going to find out and finally discovered an answer to that. Read on.

Breathtaking Sanctum 3D Trailer

Esa'ala cave and the cave in Sanctum: Which is which? - The cave featured in the 3D flick Sanctum

At the opening scene of Sanctum, we are welcomed with a promising note "inspired by true events". Hence, the animated experience in the whole ride of the movie makes us want to go deeper and do the investigating ourselves. This, after the characters' significantly played role, convinced us that the story is more than just surreal. Yep, the film was based on a similar real event albeit the movie itself was magnanimously fictitionalized to cater to the moviegoer's cinematic appetite. Esa'ala cave is an underground river network of caves in Esa'ala, Papua New Guinea. While it is not the largest as what we were expected to believe, it is a mysterious river cave system in its own respect. Numerous explorations in the Esa'ala cave network have uncovered a teeming biodiversity of marine and aquatic life. The cave is a popular tourist and diving spot in Papua New Guinea and is protected as a sanctuary by the local government. The cave featured in Sanctum was indeed breathtaking. It was not digitally altered to look bigger in any way but is an actual footage of a cave in San Luis Potisi, Mexico. Locally known as Sótano de las Golondrinas, it is a pit cave that is 160 by 205 feet wide and is undercut around all its perimeter, further widening to a room approximately 995 feet by 440 feet wide with a 1,220-foot drop from the highest side. It is normally favored by adventurists enegaged in free fall. It is also widely popular as a caving destination. The cave is considered the 11th deepest in the world and New York's Chrysler Building could easily fit in.

The Real Life Story behind Sanctum - The men behind the adventure

While we helplessly watched the characters in Sanctum pit for survival, we can only fathom the real score behind the script. Andrew Wight, a renowned cave explorer and dive master, actually wrote the story for the film which was based by an inspiration of actual events of a group of cave explorers he led in 1988. The underground river system of Cocklebiddy lies beneath the Nullarbor Plains in southern Australia. Wight's group, determined to explore the vast underground river system, marched out a 22-man team to chart the widely unexplored territory. They were on the last leg of their expedition several kilometers deep into the subterranean tunnels when disaster struck. Seven people, including Wight, got out right after the entrance to the underground tunnel caved in due to massive amounts of rainwater accumulated during a rare storm. Thirteen, including Liz Wight, wife of Andrew, were deep inside the tunnels. They were running against time as water slowly gushed in, fill in the void and rock traps with water. Thanks to Ron Allum (who was able to keep a handheld radio), the group beneath the ground were able to communicate with the five members who got out, who in turn, notified authorities who were located 300 miles to the south. Meanwhile, time was not in their hands. The two groups devised a way to make it out by exploring restricted passageways. The men who got out served as navigators, constantly providing mapping support while the people trapped inside painstakingly rummaged through a way out. After a 24 hour ordeal, a new passageway has been found and within 6 hours, everyone got out safely.

Cocklebiddy underground river system

Passageway to the Cocklebiddy underground river cave

Inside the CockleBiddy underground river system

Andrew Wight inside Cocklebiddy underground river system

A diver with a midget submersible beneath the Nullarbor Plains

Andrew Wight's team of cave explorers and divers

What's the biggest cave then? - The Great Cave of Vietnam

One of the century's greatest archaelogical find is the Han Son Doong Cave in Vietnam, re-discovered by a team of British Cave Research Association researchers. This is the first documented attempt to survey the cave area, which has the biggest cave passage to date. The team also came to an underground river that stretches 2.5 kilometers of the limestone packed cavern high. The team explored for a couple of miles into Son Doong, reaching a further total covered area of 4.5 kilometers before being turned back by floodwaters. The restricted area is believed to be a hundred more kilometers deep, perhaps yet a frontier waiting to be uncovered.

The massive entrance to Han Son Doong

British cave explorers rest by the entrance of Han Son Doong

Best Trekking Equipments - My Camping Finds

Whether you're a trekker, adventurist, cave explorer or simply the guy who wanna prove something manly, you'll definitely gonna need protection from the elements or whomever you'll need protection from. Well, here's my pick.

Great Outdoor Gears

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