St. Petersburg Times; St. Petersburg; Dec 28, 1999; JOSH ZIMMER;BARBARA BEHRENDT;KATHRYN WEXLER;
The teens are hospitalized with hypothermia after their ordeal in the Withlacoochee State Forest in Citrus County. Eight boys and two counselors began their journey into the popular limerock caves of the Withlacoochee State Forest Monday as a simple outing in the wild. But when the group from the San Antonio Boy's Village in Pasco County ventured into the well-known opening called Peace Cave in early afternoon, the exploration took a treacherous turn. Two boys, ages 15 and 16, became trapped at a hairpin turn in the cold, oxygen- starved, 50-foot tunnel. For more than two hours, rescuers labored over the craggy, narrow hole in the ground. "They are alive and we're going to get them out," firefighter Lisa Burnes of the District One Chassahowitzka Fire Station said. "Everybody's working together. We have a positive outlook." Shortly after 5 p.m., with daylight fading, a human chain of more than a half-dozen trimly built rescuers snaked into the cave to pull one boy out headfirst. Thirty minutes later, the second emerged. Both were taken to the hospital and treated for hypothermia. Barely responsive when pulled from the cave, the first boy was carried under protective cover to a pickup truck, where he was tied to the bed, covered with a blanket, given oxygen and put on a heart monitor before being transported out of the 43,000-acre forest to a waiting helicopter. "I'll come to visit you," one of the elated boys cried out. An official with St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa confirmed his name as Michael Sharrow, 15. The second youngster, confirmed by the hospital as Javarick Henderson, 16, appeared less responsive initially and also was airlifted. The hospital official said they were in good condition after being trapped underground for hours and would be released Monday night. "(Michael) told his friend he thought they were going to die," said Mike Sharrow, Michael's father. Sharrow said his son Michael's memory of the incident is foggy. "He just remembers going into the cave, falling unconscious and banging his head on the ground as they were dragging him out. "There should've been somebody in the cave with the boys," Sharrow said. "Michael said there were no counselors in the cave because they were too big to get in there." The boy's village chief counselor John Chandler called in the emergency about 3:15 p.m., Burnes said. Within 15 minutes, rescuers from a half-dozen agencies were converging on the scene east of County Road 491 and north of County Road 480, about a mile inside the state-owned forest, she said. The trip was not unusual for groups from San Antonio Boy's Village, a residential facility for delinquent children in San Antonio, village executive director Al Capodiferro said. "They enjoy it. It's one of their favorite type of field trips," he said. "It's more of a recreational experience type of thing" rather than a formal lesson in the village's program. "This was supposed to be a fishing trip but it was too cold, so they opted for the caves," Capodiferro said. Chandler said he could not comment about the incident, but he was overheard telling rescuers that the emergency began around 2 p.m. There was so little oxygen in the cave that Sharrow and Henderson drifted in and out of consciousness. "I talked to them right to the moment they passed out," he said. Most of Peace Cave is easily explored, said Lt. Gene Newman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It is about 50 feet long as it heads west, and a 6-foot-tall person can stand up inside. But the trapped youths took a side turn north into a hairpin turn, he said. "It's a booger of a hole," he said. Firefighter Donnie Mabesoone, 21, was chosen for the rescue chain because of his thinbuild and was at the front of the line with the victims. "It was a tight one," he said . "I had to lay on my belly and crawl down through this area military style." He recalled that both boys could respond to commands. As they looked on, authorities said they have been concerned for years about cave exploring within the forest, a popular destination for hikers and horseback riders, as well. Peace Cave, which gets its name from a graffiti peace symbol painted on a large oak tree at the entrance, is near a popular series of tunnels called Dames Cave and inevitably attracts the curious. A half-hearted attempt at deterring visitors and partiers was made a decade ago by placing concrete blocks along the roads leading to the caves. But they are wide apart and easily bypassed by cars. A suggestion to forgo cave exploring after evening is regularly ignored, he said. The state Division of Forestry, which oversees the area, does not require permits, he said. After the rescue, officials are planning to discuss safety in the caves and review public access policies. "We're going to have to critique this with the state and our fire guys," Citrus County Fire Training Officer Fred Beckner said.- Staff writer Jorge Sanchez contributed to this report.[Illustration]
Caption: Rescuers lift Javarick Henderson, 16, from the Peace Cave entrance in the Withlacoochee State Forest Monday. ; Mike Sharrow is the father of one of the rescued boys, Michael Sharrow, 15. (ran CITY & STATE, METRO & STATE); locates where the; children were rescued in the Withlacoochee State Forest; Mike Sharrow (ran TAMPA & STATE); Photo: COLOR PHOTO, RON THOMPSON; BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO; BLACK AND WHITE MAP; BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO, AMY NEWMAN
Rescue leads to review of cavesJOSH ZIMMER. St. Petersburg Times. St. Petersburg, Fla.: Dec 29, 1999As two boys rescued from a cave recover, officials take a hard look at what happened and what can be done to prevent similar events. A day after being rescued from a cold, dark cave in the Withlacoochee State Forest, Javarick Henderson said he is glad to be alive. For some frightful moments before losing consciousness, Henderson said he thought he might die. "I was scared before the rescue people got there because we were running out of air," he said Tuesday by phone from his home in St. Petersburg. "The last 10 minutes before I blacked out I was screaming." Henderson, 16, and Michael Sharrow, 15, got stuck inside the so-called Peace Cave during a day excursion with six other teenagers and two counselors from San Antonio Boy's Village, a 24-hour residential facility for delinquent children in Pasco County. With two other boys, Henderson veered off from the main tunnel without telling the counselors, who were waiting outside the cave entrance. The boys soon regretted the decision, as they tried backing out of a space that's just big enough to crawl in. Sharrow proved too big for the crevice. He got stuck and trapped Henderson in the process, Henderson said. It took two dozen rescue workers from a half-dozen agencies working more than two hours before a human chain of trimly built personnel were able to pull the duo out. They were airlifted to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa. Both arrived in stable condition and were released Tuesday morning, the hospital said. In the aftermath of the incident, all of the parties involved seem to be questioning safety, access to the caves and whether the youths were properly supervised. Henderson's mother, Gloria Davis, said she was too overjoyed about her son's escape to approach camp officials about her concerns but she may talk to them even though Henderson is done with the program. "I was just was wondering why the kids were there in that particular cave without any supervision," she said. "I think it's something the kids should experience but they should always have supervision with them." Meanwhile, San Antonio Boy's Village executive director Al Capodiferro said he is nearly done with his part of the official investigation into the incident. The state Department of Juvenile Justice, which licenses the 26-bed facility, requires a report on the incident. Capodiferro said he expected the review to take about a month. Groups from the Boy's Village have been traveling to the forest for years to give the youngsters, mostly inner-city kids, exposure to the outdoors and an outlet from the strict regimen of camp life, he said. But Monday's accident was the worst in more than 10 years, he said. "I will never resume cave trips," Capodiferro said. "Quite obviously, there was more of a risk than I anticipated it to be. With this knowledge, I wouldn't feel comfortable going on a trip of this nature again. The rest of our programs will continue along. We will spend a lot of time outdoors . . . but we will take a close look at procedures to see if there are any hidden areas that have been overlooked. It's just a wake-up call." Local emergency response officials said Tuesday they will be critiquing the rescue operation within the next few days but seemed satisfied by the success. However, Citrus County Public Safety Director Charles Poliseno and District One Chassahowitzka Fire Chief Frank Roush suggested the county may need new communications equipment for areas such as caves and woods. Both said the county's high-band communications system sometimes proved ineffective when trying to talk with rescuers in the cave and personnel at fire dispatch. It's not clear when the state Division of Forestry, which oversees the 43,000-acre area, will conduct a detailed analysis of the incident, recreation coordinator Lynne Bolton said. Most of the forest's top management is out of town, she said. However, officials on hand are looking to the Tampa Bay Grotto Society for advice on issues of safety and access, she said. One concern is that media attention only will draw more people to the caving area, which the Forestry Division does not want because the incident shows how dangerous the limestone formations can be, she said. "At the present, we haven't rushed there to have someone standing guard," Bolton said. "We're going to meet in the morning (today) to see what we need do in the short term. Nothing has been decided at this point. "This is like the bunny slope on the ski slopes," she said. "But because we did have a problem and the boys were in danger, we don't want anyone else to have a problem. But we don't necessarily have to close off the whole area to the public." Caving groups recommend certain basic procedures and Bolton said the nature of the accident indicates the youngsters may not have been well prepared for their adventure. "Whatever those counselors did to let two kids in the same (narrow passageway) . . . leads me to believe these counselors were not aware of proper cave process," Bolton said. "These kids didn't have the proper training to be in that cave."
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