ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – The rescue efforts in Thailand have put caving on the international stage. Thousands of miles away, here at home, caving professionals stress one thing -- safety.
"It's not safe for people to wander around in caves if they don't know where they're going," said Connie Browning.
Browning owns Dixie Caverns in Roanoke County. At this commercial cave, visitors have to be accompanied by a tour guide. Wild caves are different. There are no locked doors and guides; the journey underground is much more independent. Experts recommend having help during your first time in a cave.
"If you want to see a cave you should go to commercial caverns first to see what a cave is like," said Browning.
Millions of people visit caves every year. According to the Wilderness Medical Society, between 1980 and 2008, roughly three people died each year related to caving, while about 500 people reported traumatic injuries. It's a reminder not to be scared of caves, but to be careful. Wear proper clothing, bring the right gear and make sure you're prepared and know what you're walking into.
"Caverns are safe if you know the cave and if you have equipment there for you to guide you along," said Browning.
To learn more about caving safety, click here.
Click here to learn about caving destinations in southwest Virginia.