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Friday, September 05, 2014

Daredevil cave divers exploring depths across Nullarbor Plain

John Vanderleest
Cave diver John Vanderleest explores the underwater caverns of WA's Nullarbor. Picture:
DAREDEVIL divers are exploring remote underground caves across the Nullarbor Plain, swimming below millions of tonnes of rock where one mistake can prove fatal.
But they say taking the ultimate risk is worth it to pioneer a world most of us will never see, in water so stunningly clear that it is "the closest you can come to being an astronaut on Earth".
Their view backs up Lonely Planet's list of top dive spots which shows WA's Nullarbor ahead of the Great Barrier Reef.
While that outraged tourism bosses in Queensland, a hard-core club of about 50 WA cave divers say Lonely Planet was right to name Cocklebiddy Cave, 1150km east of Perth, as one of the world's top-10 dive locations.
"You shine your light and it is so magnificently clear it makes a swimming pool seem murky," Nullarbor veteran and Cave Divers Association of Australia director John Vanderleest said.
"You can't articulate how crystal clear it is. You're floating in a giant cave that's so crystal clear you don't even realise you're underwater. It's like you're floating in space."
And it's almost as dangerous as a trip to outer space.
More than 90m below ground, divers are beneath millions of tonnes of rock. And at 6.5km long, Cocklebiddy Cave is the longest underwater passage in the country, up to several hundred metres wide, along a fault line in the biggest slab of limestone on the planet.
In 1972 and 1973, at least eight people died cave-diving in Australia, prompting the formation of the cave divers association and the introduction of a permits and a training system that has kept fatalities to two since then.
That record was almost ruined in 1988 when producer Andrew Wight led a Nullarbor cave-diving expedition and a freak storm caused the entrance to collapse, leaving 15 people trapped underground.
A rescue mission was mounted and everyone survived in a harrowing ordeal that inspired the movie Sanctum.
So mysterious are the world's giant, flooded underwater caverns, the Maya believed the entrances to them to be portals to the underworld.
"It's an unforgiving sport. You can't afford mistakes. If anything goes wrong, you have to deal with it underwater," Mr Vanderleest said.
He said the Nullarbor's six regularly dived caves were among the most popular in the country for Australia's small and highly trained group of cave divers, who number about 800, including up to 70 in WA.
Phenomenal visibility is the result of artesian basin water that has taken thousands of years to filter through the limestone surface layers, the cave divers association's scientific officer, Ian Lewis, said.
And exploring the underwater realm isn't cheap.
"A re-breather will be $12,000-$15,000, an underwater scooter $5000, but people don't mind the expense because when your life is reliant on equipment, you don't want an old VW, you want a Ferrari," Mr Vanderleest said.
Perth diver Craig Challen holds the "crown of Cocklebiddy" for going deeper than anyone to the end of the cave system, where it branches into several tight passages. Another Perth legend of the sport is Paul Hosie, who has mapped more than 15km of virgin cave-diving passages in the Nullarbor and elsewhere.
Fellow diver Geoff Paynter has tackled Cocklebiddy more than a dozen times since it was discovered in the '70s.
He said most West Australians had no idea that the treasure existed.
"People are literally driving over the top on their way to Perth or Adelaide and they don't realise what's below," he said.

Four die after panic set in during scuba dive at popular Italian resort

A British scuba diver was one of four to die after becoming trapped in a submerged cave near the tourist Italian port of Palinuro at the weekend the coastguard revealed.

Divers and Coast Guard personnel at Palinuro in Italy
Divers and Coast Guard personnel during recovery operations of the four drowned divers at Palinuro in Italy Photo: EPA
Douglas Rizzo, who was born in London but had been living in Rome, is believed to have been the leader of a party of divers who lost their bearings after kicking up mud from the floor of the "Blood Grotto", a popular destination with amateur divers because of its red walls, caused by a bacterial growth.
According to Italian investigators the group missed the exit to the cave after becoming confused and instead entered a nearby tunnel which led to a chamber with a dead end.
An Italian magistrate has opened an inquiry into the accident at the seaside resort south of Naples. Authorities identified the victims as Rizzo, 41, who leaves a wife and six-month old son, Andrea Pedroni, 40, from Rome, Greek-born Panaiotis Telios, 23, from Reggio Calabria, and Susy Covaccini, 36, also from Rome.
Massimo Ruggiero, the coastguard commander in Palinuro, said: "The entrance to the cave is through a tunnel at a depth of 13 to 14 metres. The group should then have swum up to a higher tunnel and made their exit from the cave through that.
"Beneath this channel there is another tunnel that leads to a dead end in a chamber with a sandy floor. All the victims were found there."
Marco Sebastiani, one of four other divers who survived the tragedy said he realised something was wrong when he saw their guide showing signs of agitation, but at that point it was too late.
"We suddenly found ourselves in a blind tunnel. We couldn't see anything. At that point it was panic. The agitation of the least experienced took hold. Mud and sand came up from the bottom of the cave and visibility was gone," Mr Sebastiani told Il Messaggero newspaper.
"At a certain point I managed to find my way. I took as many people as I could with me and we swam towards the light, which grew bigger all the time. When I came up, I looked around to count us and I realised that Susy, Andrea, Douglas and Panos weren't there."
Roberto Navarra, the diving school owner who provided the group's equipment, confirmed yesterday (Sunday) that four of the group had swum into the wrong tunnel.
"It's an easy cave but there is a dangerous tunnel that people never use. Four people swam into that channel," Mr Navarra told reporters.
He said he had tried repeatedly to save the missing divers but "the visibility was terrible. You could see nothing".
Mr Navarra said the group was correctly equipped and carried torches. "Unfortunately there was not one, but an incredible series of negative circumstances. Now we are all shocked and saddened."
Valter Ciociano, an expert diver from nearby Marina di Camerota, said many of the 35 underwater caves that draw divers to the area have muddy bottoms. "Often when you go in, the water is clear and you don't notice that your flippers are muddying the water behind you, creating what seems an impenetrable wall. On these occasions it's panic that rules the day."
The underwater caves do sometimes contain small air pockets under the roof, but experts say they are no guarantee of safety. In many cases the air would not be breathable because of the presence of poisonous hydrogen sulphide fumes.
turday 6 September 2014

Rescuers continue efforts to recover body of cave diver

Barry Duggan

PUBLISHED07/09/2011 | 05:00
01OF 4
Cave diving trainer Artur Kozlowski, from Shankill, Dublin, whose body was discovered in a cave network near Kiltartan in Co Galway last night
Efforts will resume today to recover the body of a diver who died exploring a cave in Co Galway.
The alarm was raised when Artur Kozlowski, (34), a Polish man who was one ofIreland’s most experienced cave divers, failed to resurface from a diving trip in a flooded inland cave on Monday night.
Members of the Irish Cave Rescue Organisation located his body last night, nearly 24 hours later, about 52 metres down in the deepest section of the cave.
They plan to bring it to the surface during the day.
Mr Kozlowski had been living in Ireland for a number of years and held several records in Ireland and Britain, including one for the longest and deepest cave traverse of 103 metres.
He had enough oxygen to last more than six hours when he went into the water at Pollonora cave, Kiltartan about two and a half miles north of Gort at 3pm on Monday.
His close friend and experienced diver Jim Warney found the Polish national's body in an underwater passage at around 6pm yesterday.

It took Mr Warney an hour to dive to the narrow passage where the victim lay with his oxygen tanks and guide rope fully attached.
The location where he was found is almost a kilometre from the access point to the cave and is 52 metres deep.
The family of the diving training instructor in Poland were informed of his death shortly after the search diver returned to the surface.
The rescue team has now requested the assistance of a UK dive rescue unit to assist in the recovery of Mr Kozlowski's body.
Mr Kozlowski was on the final day of an underground expedition when he vanished.
The Polish national was regarded as the most prominent cave diver in the country -- and it was hoped that he had sought sanctuary in an air pocket in the extensive underground cave network.
Originally from Poznan in Poland, Mr Kozlowski lived in Shankill, Dublin, and was known to his Irish friends as Artur Conrad.
He arrived at the rural location in Co Galway on Saturday, and spent Sunday diving, before going underground for a final exploration on Monday.
Mr Warney's search last night was his second dive in less than 24 hours, having spent Monday night searching after the alarm was raised.
After two divers searched an initial 350 metres to no avail, Mr Warney examined an un- searched area of the 800 metre-wide cave which is 52 metres deep.
Conor McGrath of the Irish Cave Rescue Organisation said a considerable air space had been discovered halfway into the underground cave and that they had hoped to uncover more. "The air space is near the surface so that gives us hope that the cave may have more similar air spaces and that he is in one of them," Mr McGrath said before the discovery of the diver's body.
"He is very experienced. He has very good equipment, very good training and very good knowledge. He is the only one who has been into this cave to its known limits,"
All five divers involved in yesterday's search were friends of Mr Kozlowski. A quantity surveyor by trade, he had been living in Dublin since 2006 and began cave diving in 2007.
Friends said he quickly became involved in all aspects of cave diving and soon opened his own training company.
In 2008, he recorded the deepest underwater cave dive in Ireland and the UK at Pollatoomary, Co Mayo.
For the past two years he had extensively explored the vast underground cave network in south Galway.
Tom Nolan (86) of Croker House in Kiltartan, Co Galway, had known Mr Kozlowski since he first explored the cave at the rear of the family home in 2007.
Mr Kozlowski became a familiar face at the the bed and breakfast. "He'd come and ask: 'What room am I in? I'll dress the bed myself'.
"He arrived on Saturday night and was diving Sunday and Monday.
"On Monday he told my son, John, that he was going for the last stage. He wanted to see if he could connect this with the caves in the Burren. If so, it would be the biggest underground cave network in Europe.
Artur was underground there one day and he could hear this noise," said Mr Nolan.
"He checked all his gear to see if there was something wrong and couldn't figure out where the noise was coming from.
"He kept listening though and eventually figured out it that the noise was from the traffic on the road above him. That is how big it is underground here."
Irish Independent
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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."
Underwater hell: Man trapped for 20h in cave
The coast north of L'Estartit in Catalonia. File photo: Hector García

Underwater hell: Man trapped for 20h in cave

Published: 21 Jul 2014 11:17 GMT+02:00
Updated: 21 Jul 2014 11:17 GMT+02:00
Three divers, aged in the 50s and 60s, had been diving just north of the Catalan port of L'Estartit on Saturday when they found themselves trapped in the cave , Spain's El Periódico newspaper reported.   
One of the men managed to escape and informed emergency services who rushed to the scene.
Divers with Spain's Civil Guard police force found one of the men had already died.
The other diver, however, had managed to find an air bubble, and was "hanging onto life by a thread", police said.
A difficult rescue followed, with heavy seas meaning police divers were forced to submerge 12 times in a bid to extricate the man from the cave.
The man was finally rescued at 5pm on Sunday after being trapped for 20 hours.
The search for the deceased man has been postponed until Monday because of difficult conditions.
It is not yet known how the two men became trapped. 

2 Finns killed in Norway cave-diving accident

February 7, 2014 - 8:05 AM
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Finland says two of its citizens have been killed in a cave-diving accident in northern Norway.
Finnish Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tytti Pylkko said Friday the two were in a group of five Finnish divers, but had no further details.
Police in Norway's Helgeland district confirmed they were alerted early Friday to a diving accident near Mo i Rana, some 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) north of Oslo. A police statement said two people were killed and three others flown to a nearby hospital.
The cave system, fed by the Plura River, is considered Norway's largest water-filled cave and is popular among divers. Local media said a 37-year-old Norwegian diver died in the same caves in 2006 when he tried to set a new deep-diving record.

Diver dies in Welsh quarry accident

Will Smith from Hinckley was overcome by gas while exploring a cave hidden under the water

The Sea King Helicopter
A diver from Hinckley has died after getting into trouble while exploring a dry cave in a disused quarry in north Wales.
Will Smith, 40, was with two friends on Saturday at Aber Las in the Glyn Ceiriog valley when he was overcome by poisonous gas in the sump hole and slipped back down a slope into the water.
His companions’ attempts to resuscitate him were in vain and they raised the alarm at around 1.50pm, after having to leave the scene.
A specialist search and rescue mission was launched and Mr Smith’s body was recovered early on Sunday morning.
Czech-born Sasha London who was with Mr Smith on the caving expedition, said: “Aber Las is a former slate mine which we had been investigating for about a year and a half. We’d go there every month or so and just explore a bit more each time.
“For this visit one of the objectives was to have a look at a dry passage around 1,000ft into the flooded mine. Will went into the passage while I and our other friend waited for him just on the edge. We could see him, he turned around and my friend heard him say something about having a problem with gas, then he tumbled down the slope into the water. We tried to revive him but he wasn’t breathing.”
The trio were members of the UK Mine/Cave Diving and Exploration group which organises cave diving trips around the UK.
Mr London said he and Mr Smith had dived together in France and were among a number planning an ambitious trip to Mexico before this unforseen and devastating accident.
A former John Cleveland College student who ran wall and floor tiling business, WS Tiles, Mr Smith leaves wife, Kelly and two daughters.
Friend, Geoff Aldridge who was best man at his wedding, said: “He was one of the most honest blokes you could meet. He had the time of day for everyone and was genuinely interested in how people were doing.”
Builder, Mr Aldridge said he wished he could have dived alongside his former schoolpal to share in the joy and wonder it brought him.
“I know diving became very important to Will,” said Mr Aldridge. “He was trained by the best and was meticulous with his safety. He was also an inspiration to up and coming divers so I understand.
“But he was very much like that, focused, with an appetite for life, whatever he was involved in he gave it his all and he loved the great outdoors. This has been such a massive shock to everyone. People have said he had the biggest smile ever and we are all going to miss that.”
Before taking up diving Mr Smith had been a well-known character on the amateur boxing scene, fighting and coaching for the Heart of England Community Boxing Club.
A post on the Burbage-based club’s Facebook page read: “Very sad to report the death of Will Smith. Newer members will not remember Will.
"He was a committed, tough and strong amateur boxer who engaged in around 35 contests. He was a level II coach and a key member of our coaching team for several years. Recently he has not been involved in boxing but had become a very enthusiastic scuba diver and into ‘cave diving’. Unfortunately he lost his life while cave diving at the weekend. It was a pleasure to coach Will and it was a pleasure to work alongside him as a coach. He was a good friend and you will struggle to find anyone who had a bad word for him. RIP Will.”
Diver, Paul Rosendale posting on the Facebook page of a fellow UK Mine/Cave Diving and Exploration member, said: “First class chap, everyone’s friend, awesome diver, devoted husband and father. Just a few to sum up Will Smith.”
A Sea King helicopter, dozens of volunteers and cave rescue teams were involved in the search for Mr Smith’s body. The north Wales coroner is expected to open an inquest next week.