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Henderson County first responders say they will learn from Thailand cave rescue

Adam Justus and Mark Shepherd, both assistant chiefs of the Henderson County Rescue Squad, said they closely followed the Thai cave rescue. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Even though it happened on the other side of the world, the successful Thai cave rescue hits close to home for some first responders here in the mountains.

Adam Justus and Mark Shepherd, both assistant chiefs of the Henderson County Rescue Squad, said they closely followed the Thai cave rescue.

"Immediately, your mind starts thinking, 'If this was our situation we were in, how would we approach this?'" Justus said.

"We understand how difficult and how monumental that rescue really was," Shepherd said.

Both men are longtime first responders and highly experienced divers, with many hours spent navigating murky water, like the French Broad River, and some cave rescue experience.

"Black water alone is dangerous, and it's probably one of the most dangerous things we do," Justus said. "I always said diving is more dangerous than firefighting."

Shepherd said the death of a former Thai navy seal in the cave rescue underscores the dangers first responders face.

"It's, of course, really tragic. Here in North Carolina, we had a public safety diver pass away two years ago," he said. "We remember those people. What we do is dangerous. Even though with the best laid plans, it is still extremely dangerous."

Justus and Shepherd said first responders will continue to learn from the Thai cave rescue for years to come, adding, here at home, they may need to put that knowledge into practice in the future.

"There is a caving community here. I think once those caves become more discoverable, that's some issues we're going to face here in Western North Carolina," Justus said.

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