World's Biggest Cave Found in Vietnam

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The explorers surveyed Son Doong's size using laser-based measuring devices.

Such modern technology allows caves to be measured to the nearest millimeter, said Andy Eavis, president of the International Union of Speleology, the world caving authority, based in France.

"With these laser-measuring devices, the cave sizes are dead accurate," he said. "It tends to make the caves smaller, because years ago we were estimating, and we tended to overestimate."

Eavis, who wasn't involved in the survey, agreed that the new findings confirm Son Doong's record status—despite the fact that he had discovered Borneo's now demoted Deer Cave.

"This one in Vietnam is bigger," Eavis conceded.

However the British caver can still claim the discovery of the world's largest cave chamber, Sarawak Chamber, also in Borneo.

"That is so large it may not actually be beaten," he said. "It's three times the size of Wembley Stadium" in London.

Noisy and Intimidating

Son Doong had somehow escaped detection during previous British caving expeditions to the region, which is rich in limestone grottos.

"The terrain in that area of Vietnam is very difficult," said expedition team member Spillane.

"The cave is very far out of the way. It's totally covered in jungle, and you can't see anything on Google Earth," he added, referring to the free 3-D globe software.

(Related: "Google Earth, Satellite Maps Boost Armchair Archaeology.")

"You've got to be very close to the cave to find it," Spillane said. "Certainly, on previous expeditions, people have passed within a few hundred meters of the entrance without finding it."

The team was told that local people had known of the cave but were too scared to delve inside.

"It has a very loud draft and you can hear the river from the cave entrance, so it is very noisy and intimidating," Spillane said.

Bigger Caves Waiting?

Of more concern to the caving team were the poisonous centipedes that live in Son Doong.

The explorers also spotted monkeys entering through the roof of the cave to feed on snails, according to Spillane.

"There are a couple of skylights about 300 meters [985 feet] above," he said. "The monkeys are obviously able to climb in and out."

A biologist will accompany the team on its return visit next year to survey the cave's subterranean wildlife.

Eavis, of the International Union of Speleology, added that there are almost certainly bigger cave passages awaiting discovery around the world.

"That's the fantastic thing about caving," he said.

Satellite images hint, for example, that caves even larger than Son Doong lie deep in the Amazon rain forest, he said.

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