The scanning of Maria Concordia was a testament to the practicality of the cave diving course – always be prepared with alternative plans. And not just plan B, but also plans C and D. A few days before our departure for the mine, we encountered a setback when Michał, one of our divers and a professional underwater photographer, fell ill. This was disappointing as Michał’s role was not only to perform scans but also to document our journey with his lens. However, I accepted the situation as it was and acknowledged that we would have the opportunity for an underwater photo session at another time. Yet, another issue arose unexpectedly. Several memory cards, almost as if acting maliciously, refused to cooperate. It’s hard not to believe that inanimate objects can have a sense of spite. Thankfully, Bartek, one of our divers, was on his way and was able to fill the gaps by purchasing new memory cards from an electronics store.
It was time to divide into teams – the surface team and the underground team. I purposely use the term ‘underground’ instead of ‘underwater’ to emphasize that Maria Concordia is a mine that is only partially flooded. In order to reach the water, we needed to descend approximately 40 meters into the shaft using an electric winch, under the supervision of the facility owner and his team. The descent itself was an incredible experience. As we descended into the dark shaft, passing by the entrances to dry levels, the sense of adventure was palpable. At the bottom, we were greeted by an illuminated chamber specifically prepared for divers, where we equipped ourselves on a steel platform at water level. While the descent was an adventure in itself, it did present logistical challenges. The air humidity in the ‘dry’ chamber was so high that we decided not to replace batteries in cameras and flashlights there. Although the equipment would probably be fine, there was a risk of moisture entering the waterproof GoPro cases and causing condensation and fogging from the inside. Therefore, after each dive, we had to bring the entire set of cameras and lights back up to the surface, where the surface team would replace the batteries and transfer the data to the hard drive.
The initial dives were a bit chaotic. Misfortune seemed to follow us as Bartek and Mikko discovered leaks in their suits during their first dives. Even with a small leak, water at a temperature of 8 degrees Celsius could quickly cause the body to cool down, not to mention extreme discomfort. Fortunately, we were prepared for this as well, with spare suits, including a brand new Seal drysuit, that proved to be reliable.
With each subsequent dive, our organization and coordination improved. By the second day of our operation, everything ran smoothly – the briefing, checking the working map to determine which areas had been scanned in previous dives, and the subsequent battery replacements. Each of us knew our role and what needed to be done. Finally, our trip came to an end. In total, we captured approximately 110,000 photos across all four levels. However, we were aware that the shallowest and most extensive level would require at least two additional visits to the mine.