A TEAM of North West explorers responsible for discovering the world’s biggest cave five years ago are returning to Vietnam this month to ‘find an even bigger one’.
In 2009 Ingleton couple Howard and Deb Limbert led a small caving expedition which resulted in the discovery of Hang Son Doong – in places big enough to house a block of New York skyscrapers.
The pair have now moved out there permanently to lead tours of the spectacular cave – which is more than 650ft high and almost 500ft wide.
Now Howard and Deb are to be joined by their 12 team members – from Ingleton, Bentham, Blackpool, Carlisle, Keighley, and Crewe – for a nine week expedition with the aim of finding more record-breaking wonders in the Vietnamese jungle.
Robbie Burke, of Bentham, has been to the area five times since 2003, and said there ‘is no reason why’ the team shouldn’t top their 2009 find.
“Hang Son Doong was obviously the big one but we’ve found lots of extensive cave systems and networks out there over the past ten years.”
The team that discovered the cave were told that locals knew about it but were afraid to go in because of a loud whistling caused by the underground river.
Robbie was not present for the original discovery – which was cut short by a large calcite wall – but has returned to Hang Son Doong for subsequent exploratory trips.
“The entrance to it is pretty small and inconspicuous but it soon became obvious that what we’d found was just phenomenal – it’s an absolutely breathtaking sight.”
In 2010 the team returned to properly survey the cave and establish that it was the world’s largest – beating the previous record holder, Deer Cave in Malaysia.
Of their upcoming visit in March-April, Robbie said: “We’ve been thinking ‘what if there are caves bigger than that’, and from intelligence we’ve gathered it’s likely that there are.”
In preparation the team will use information about the area from geologists, but Robbie said ‘the best source of information is the people who live and work in the jungle’.
“We have a fantastic relationship with them and these expeditions have been responsible for bringing a lot of money into the area.”
The expeditions – which have been running for 25 years in total - have also been instrumental in securing word heritage status for the Phong Nha Ke Bang region, where many of the caves are located.
Robbie said: “I’m really excited to get back out there – the place is absolute heaven.
“Everyone on the team has a day job and in many ways we’re a very disparate group of people - but we all have a passion for exploration.”