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Friday, September 05, 2014

Diver calm to end as death closed in

Agnes Milowka
Cave diver Agnes Milowka.
CAVE diver Agnes Milowka remained calm until her last breath as she tried to find her way to the surface.
Dr Richard Harris, a close friend of 29-year-old Ms Milowka, says she didn't panic in her final moments.
He is part of the team trying to clear the way for police divers to retrieve her body from Tank Cave, near Millicent.
Dr Harris, who had seen Ms Milowka's body submerged under 20m of water in a tight section of the cave about 550m from the entrance, said she was not trapped before her death.
He said Ms Milowka, who worked as a stunt diver for James Cameron's movie Sanctum, had ran out of air and suffocated after becoming disoriented.
She was separated from her diving partner and later became lost after stirring up silt from the cave walls and floor.
"It looks like she has remained very calm right to the last breath while she's been working at extricating herself," close friend and state safety officer Dr Harris said.
"She couldn't see anything and she's been unable to quite work out the way to try to get out of the cave and she's run out of air."
He said cave diving accreditation was sufficient and the sport should not be banned despite the death.
Adelaide-based Dr Harris said the sport had an enviable safety record with only two deaths from cave diving in the area since 1984.
He said Ms Milowka - a marine archaeologist - was at the "leading edge" of the sport and respected worldwide for her diving skills.
Her "aggression" in the winding and narrow tunnels might have cost her life, after venturing into "a very narrow, rocky piece of passage," which took divers about an hour to reach, he said.
"There was no room in there for two people so she was by herself. To dive by yourself under certain situations is acceptable in this sport," he said.
Ms Milowka, who had explored Tank Cave many times, was reported missing about 1.45pm on Sunday.
Her friends and fellow expert cave divers had since worked non-stop to recover her body.
On her website, Ms Milowka called Tank Cave a "spider web gone wild".
"The walls and roof to begin with are quite soft and squishy, which means that large chunks of the roof rain down on you as you exhale and the visibility is quickly reduced to zero," she said.
"This is not only a hazard when coming back out through the small restrictions, but it also means that this section of the cave is particularly fragile and needs to be handled with a bit of tender love and care."
Divers recorded a video of the path to Ms Milowka yesterday, which convinced experts that it was possible to retrieve the body.
The retrieval team discounted the idea of a drilling through about 15m of earth above Ms Milowka to recover her body, but were hopeful it would be brought to the surface today.
The divers were working in pairs with a guide line from the cave's entrance and had positioned emergency tanks along the route to their deceased friend.
Dr Harris said Ms Milowka was a "very vivacious, out-going woman with a huge smile" who was passionate about cave diving and would be missed.
"She was someone who would light up the room; a big personality," he said. "Everyone in the cave diving community in Australia knows Agnes or has heard of her.
"The international cave diving community as well, especially the US where she worked and dived for a while, as well (will grieve her death).
"She's been a part of a lot of international diving projects and documentaries."
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