Many people would consider the tragic death of scuba diver Shane Thompson to be their worst nightmare. While exploring deep underwater caverns that had been sealed off for more than 40 years, Thompson became lost in the maze of tunnels and drowned.
According to the Guadalupe County Communicator, 43-year-old Navy veteran Shane Thompson was working to draw up a map of the uncharted parts of the “Blue Hole” in New Mexico, a small circular pool that leads to an abyss full of deadly underwater caverns. Despite the dangers, the Blue Hole is one of the most popular diving spots in the United States. And despite Shane Thompson’s 20-year expertise in scuba diving, he didn’t make it out of the pool alive.
According to the Associated Press, Shane Thompson went diving with his companion, Mike Young, who was supposed to go into the Blue Hole caverns alone while Thompson waited outside to ensure the safety of both divers. But, for an unknown reason, Shane Thompson decided to join Mike Young in the dark caverns.
Thompson reportedly got separated from his diving partner while navigating the depths. The cloudy waters full of turned-up silt made it difficult to keep track of each other. The divers were connected via a safety line, but as the two ventured further apart, the line was yanked forcibly from Mike Young’s hands.
“Shane was supposed to stay out, and for whatever reason entered the cave. Apparently something went horribly wrong, and he started to panic,” said Santa Rosa Police Chief Jude Gallegos.
Shane Thompson tried to abandon the dive and swim to the surface. Unfortunately, he took a wrong turn on the way up and got lost in the murky caverns. Young went searching for his partner, but Thompson was dead by the time he got there.
This isn’t even the first time the Blue Hole caverns have resulted in the death of scuba divers. They had been sealed off for 40 years exactly because of the death of two college students who lost their lives while venturing into the waters in 1976. Upon being re-opened for exploration, the caverns immediately claimed another life. For this reason, Shane Thompson’s partner believes they should be sealed off for good.
“He recommends to our city officials never, ever to let anybody back in those caves,” said Santa Rosa Police Officer Mike Guana. “The word that was given to me that day was these are the most dangerous caves they’ve ever dived anywhere.”
While swimmers enjoy the Blue Hole regularly, the bottom of the abyss had been fitted with a large grate to keep inexperienced divers from venturing into the caverns. But apparently even well-trained divers with decades of experience can still fall prey to the depths.
Some of the passageways are so narrow that the human body can’t fit through. According to reports, at one point, both Mike Young and Shane Thompson were wedged inside a narrow passageway, which could have caused Thompson to panic. The Blue Hole caverns include a complex system of underwater tunnels that officer Gallegos described as maze-like, or like “intestines.”
“The cave system below is walled out,” said Curt Bowen of the exploration foundation. “That means there is no cave passage left to explore. We mapped everything we could fit through, and it ended in a tight rock breakdown at a depth of 194 feet.”
While the exact cause of Shane Thompson’s death is undetermined, authorities are confident that it was an accidental drowning. Autopsy results are still pending.
The family of Shane Thompson noted that, while his death is devastating, he died doing what he loved to do.
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