On Tuesday night six tourists and a guide were held hostage for an overnight inside the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave in Teakettle Village by rising waters which prevented them from being evacuated by rescue teams.
The alert was raised just after 5:00 p.m. on November 20th when the group of six did not return to the starting point. Reports indicate that the group left on the last tour at 2:00 p.m. and should have returned by five. When they didn’t, Park Rangers were immediately alerted that something was amiss and rescue teams were called in. The group could not be located along the trail and when the rescue units went to the entrance of the cave it was already cut off by the floodwaters, and by then darkness had already fallen.
The rescue group including accompanying tour guides, and Park Rangers waited through the entire night until dawn when the water levels receded and they were able to enter the cave system and successfully locate the stranded tourists.
George Thompson, Associate Director at the Institute of Archaeology, told the Reporter that “as the river went up they just decided to stay put, which is normal procedure and try to find higher grounds until the water recedes and then proceed back out. Based on our normal procedures when they did not return we alerted our rescue operations. They responded and went into the area along with park rangers and proceeded to go across the river to the cave location. We had to wait until the river level receded and then proceed inside the cave to ensure that everybody was safe.”
Thompson said that none of the tourists nor the guide was injured. He attributed the incident to a flash flood which he says was triggered by run-off waters that came from the Pine Ridge area because it was not raining at the site.
He further confirmed that due to torrential rains the site was declared closed at around 6:00 a.m. that day. However after 8:00am that same day an assessment of the water levels, current and other factors was conducted and the system was then declared open, “because the river level was normal enough to safely do these tours,” he stressed.
Thompson said that all the tours carried out at the site that day were safe. He therefore classified the incident as “an isolated one”, explaining that it has never happened before.The Reporter