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The Movie Sanctum and the Legend of the Esa Ala Cave

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esa ala cave

“There is a shred of truth in every legend told,” or that is how the old saying goes.

For the most part, I agree with that saying. I also believe that it holds true for modern legends; especially when it comes to those hard to verify legends.

Such is the case with Andrew Wright’s Sanctum, a tale of cave divers trapped underground. The script was written by Andrew Wright, who was in a similar situation in 1988. The movie was woven together with a series of truths and partial truths, which created a buzz around the mysterious Esa’ala Cave located in Papua New Guinea.

Propelling the movie into legendary status was the fact that Andrew Wright was killed nearly a year to the day after the movie was released, making it very difficult to determine what elements of the movie were based on truth, and which were pure fiction.

Sanctum The Movie

The movie opens with the tag line that it was inspired by true events. Sanctum follows six divers as they set out to explore the little-explored Esa’ala Cave in Papua New Guinea.

Unfortunately for the divers, a tropical storm causes their entry/exit point to be blocked, and they are forced to find another way out of the cave. Then, the movie follows the divers on their journey of survival and escape.

The project was produced by James Cameron whose claim to fame included films such as Titanic and Avatar. So, as expected the film is visually appealing. The film was even nominated by the Australian Film Institute for Best Visual Effects.

Though the movie did not impress many movie-goers or critics, the visual effects captivated many divers, some of whom went out in search of the Esa’ala Cave.

esa ala cave

The Truth About the Esa Ala Cave

Unfortunately for fans of the movie, the tagline “inspired by true events” is somewhat misleading. Meaning the only facts in common between the movie and Wright’s endeavor is the fact that a group of cave divers were trapped in a cave in the southern hemisphere. That’s it.

Wright’s group was not diving in the Esa’ala Cave when they became trapped. They were actually in a cave below the Nullarbor Plain in southern Australia.

Furthermore, the survivors did not navigate the caves to find a way out, they were dug out by local rescue and emergency teams. Another interesting fact is that when Wright’s group was trapped, his wife was one of the people trapped as well, and she was one of the three survivors. However, this detail never makes it into the movie either.

However, divers will be happy to learn that the Esa’ala Cave really does exist. According to an email from the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotions Authority to Top Secret Writers:

“The Esa’ala cave is located in the Milne Bay Provence of Papua New Guinea. Milne Bay is about a 50-minute flight from Port Moresby. Our national airline, Air Niugini and the domestic carrier, Airlines of Papua New Guinea provide daily jet services from Port Moresby to Gurney airport, the point of arrival for Milne Bay. The cave itself is actually protected as a sanctuary by the local government. You may want to coordinate a trip with your travel agent, as we would not advise booking this trip on your own.” (1)

Where to Find the Beautiful Scenery From Sanctum

What divers may be disappointed to learn is the fact that most of the images in the film were not taken from the Esa’ala Cave, but instead where shot all across the globe.

So, where does a diver have to travel to see the beautiful scenery from the film? Most of the film was shot in Mexico and Australia including: Cave Of The Swallows, San Luis Potosí, Mexico; Dunk Island, Queensland, Australia; Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia; Jacobs Well, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia; Steiglitz, Queensland, Australia; and of course the Warner Bros. Movieworld studio, Oxenford, Queensland, Australia.

In some of the scenes, various natural sceneries were digitally added.

Even though the film brought international attention to the Esa’ala Cave, the film had very little to do with it. The original story did not take place there, nor was the actual movie even filmed there.

Nevertheless, adventure seekers are still trying to explore the mysterious caves that are destined to become a part of modern-day legend.

References & Image Credits:
(1) An email from the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotions Authority to Top Secret Writers’ author Dennis Dufrene
(2) Parent Reviews
(3) Digital Trends

Originally published on

“The thing about the truth is, not a lot of people can handle it.” -Conor McGregor

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Top Secret Editors

Ryan is the founder of Top Secret Writers. He is an IT analyst, blogger, journalist, and a researcher for the truth behind strange stories.
Lori is TSW's editor. Freelance writer and editor for over 17 years, she loves to read and loves fringe science and conspiracy theory.

Top Secret Writers

Gabrielle is a journalist who finds strange stories the media misses, and enlightens readers about news they never knew existed.
Sally is TSW’s health/environmental expert. As a blogger/organic gardener, she’s investigates critical environmental issues.
Mark Dorr grew up the son of a treasure hunter. His experiences led to working internationally in some surprising situations!
Mark R. Whittington, from Houston, Texas, frequently writes on space, science, political commentary and political culture.

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