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Descending deeper than ever before: How Hessian divers explore underwater caves in Namibia | hessenschau.de

The largest underground lake in the world is located in the Namibian Dragon’s Breath Cave. A team of German cave divers wants to venture into the water, which is approximately 200 meters deep – and has completed its final training in a mine near Willingen.

By Leander Löwe

With huge headlights, 70 kilogram breathing gas bottles and wrapped in a thick wetsuit, one diver after the other trudges towards the shaft entrance. They briefly wet their faces, then pushed themselves down into the depths.

Tom Baier stands next to him and shouts instructions. The cave diver team leader knows that there can be no mistakes on the upcoming expedition. “We have really adverse conditions there,” he says. “We don’t have a telephone on site, there is no electricity either, we have to be prepared for everything.”


Three divers sit in front of a cave entrance in the mine near Willingen

Down into the “Breath of the Dragon”

In June, the eight divers who are completing their final exercise here in the Willingen mine want to dive 200 meters deep into the Namibian Dragon’s Breath Cave. Baier and his team have been active in Namibia’s highlands and exploring caves for around three years, and this expedition will be their largest to date.

The object of the exploration is spectacular, says Baier: “In the middle of the barren mountains you go through a hole measuring around 50 by 80 centimeters. Then, after 250 meters of climbing, a cave system the size of two to three football fields opens up at the bottom.”


The divers sit in a circle, Tom Baier draws on a blackboard

World’s largest underground lake

It contains the largest underground lake in the world. What exactly the divers will find in the depths of the water is still unclear. So far, the lake has only been explored to a depth of 132 meters, or about half of it.

In a similar mission a few years ago, the divers found human bones and drinking vessels that were around 25,000 years old. These would have come from the time when the underground caves were dry due to the Ice Age and were accessible to people.


Two bones are measured underwater with a tape measure.

Research and document

The divers’ main focus, however, is on the question of whether there could be a connection to other caves in the region. “Maybe it’s a closed system, that would of course be an exciting story,” says Baier.

The whole thing should be spectacularly documented. The divers have now trained in the Schwalefeld mine near Willingen (Waldeck-Frankenberg) on ​​how the camera and light have to work together – in addition to a medical emergency.


Three men are sitting in the water, one is lying on his back in front of them and appears to be unconscious.

Injuries are often a death sentence

“From crashes to decompression accidents or dehydration – of course a lot can happen down there,” says Tom Baier in an interview with hessenschau.de. In addition, the nearest Namibian city is hundreds of kilometers away and prompt supply is not guaranteed.

Because of such conditions, cave diving is also considered the supreme discipline of scuba diving. If a diver is injured, he cannot surface but must dive all the way back to the entrance. The hour-long decompression phases in particular can cost an injured diver his life.


A cave diver stands in his outfit with gas bottles and a helmet in the cave entrance.

Climbing, abseiling, filming, diving

Caution is therefore the top priority, the exercises are challenging. The slate mine, which was filled with groundwater about 50 years ago, offers the best training conditions for the rescue and lighting exercise. In the end, every move has to be perfect, and the team has been preparing for this for a whole year.

Escape from an underwater cave without seeing anything, climb around in wet and dry caves, abseil from the diving tower in the Giessen swimming pool – to become a cave diver, newbies would have to have completed at least two hundred dives. Otherwise, missions like the one coming up would be life-threatening.

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