6th of February 2014: Two divers died and three more were sent to hospital after an accident in a water-filled cave system in Plurdalen, Norway.

Scroll through the highly dramatic and fatal cave dive and the following rescue operation

Plurdalen in Nordland, Northern Norway, Thursday 6th of February

The five friends from Finland are looking forward to a long weekend of cave diving in the amazing underground Northern Norwegian natural phenomenon.

The large amount of limestone in the mountains has created the spectacular caves in Nordland. Some are dry, while others are filled with water.

3,5 kilometers of the river are hidden inside the mountains. Only half are explored. That is why cave divers from all over Europe come to a small secluded valley in the north of Norway to experience the underwater adventure of the Plura cave.

These are the five Finnish divers who are getting ready

Patrik Grönqvist (42)

Jari Huotarinen (40)

Kai Känkänen (46)

Jari Uusimäki (34)

Vesa Rantanen (33)

The plan is to start from the deep pool, go into and up the river system and into the underground dry cave in Steinugleflåget, two kilometers into the mountain.

The lowest point of the cave is 132 meters below the surface.

Plura

Here the river comes to daylight. The deep pool is a gathering place for international cave divers. This is the place where the fatal dive started from.

The cave in Steinugleflåget

The divers were going to swim into this cave, 90 meters below the surface.

Steinugleflåget

The Descent

A narrow and dangerous access leading into the air-filled cave

The Passage

The most narrow part on the way up to Steinugleflåget.

The Troll Church

The Air Chamber

The near 250-meter long cave is a huge air-filled space above the water surface.

132 m
Patrik
Jari H.
Jari H.
Vesa
Jari U.
Jari U.
Kai

Team 1

Team 2

First, Patrik and Jari H. will go under water. Two hours later the second team will follow the same path.

Jari H. follows Patrik down under the ice.

The risks are many

The cold water: barely above freezing in winter

The total darkness. What do you do if the light fails?

The great depths

The two divers are quickly surrounded by darkness ...

... and the lights get switched on

Decompression sickness

Plura: The five divers started here, from the pool below the farm Jordbru in Plurdalen. The ice was thick. Almost half a meter. The divers used a chainsaw to make an opening in the ice.

Lots of equipment

Above the water, the cave divers' equipment weighs about 60 kilos.

Closed circuit breathing system

They are using closed circuit rebreathers. In addition to the rebreathers, which are carried on their backs, the cave divers also use common spare cylinders.

Now they are located in The Air Chamber

This dry cave is a huge air-filled space above the water. One can both swim and wade through the near 250-meter-long cave called The Air Chamber.

Everything goes according to plan

The two friends follow the line showing the way down through the maze.

In the autumn of 2013, divers found an opening into Steinugleflåget for the first time.

The Connection

Actually it was Patrik Grönqvist and Kai Känkänen, who today are on separate dive teams, that found the first passage through the maze.

Now, Patrik and Jari H. are on the greatest depth.

132 meters below the water surface.

132 m

They pass the deepest point. Then he tricky upward path begins.

They have spent about an hour till now.

Decompression

On the way up they have to set aside two hours for decompression and stop in regular intervals on certain levels. Otherwise they will be affected by decompression sickness, which can be fatal.

112 meters below the water surface things start to go wrong

112 m

Patrik notices that Jari is not longer behind him. He turns around and swims back.

Patrik understands that Jari is stuck, one of the worst things that can happen.

He is stuck in the passage, the most narrow part on the way up to Steinugleflåget

Patrik tries to help Jari to get loose, he has entangled himself in their guideline. After a ten minutes long dramatic battle they find themselves 30 centimeters from each other, staring into each other eyes.

At great depths it's easy to lose consciousness and die. The production of carbon dioxide, the most insidious of all dangers divers are exposed to, increases under stress.

Jari dies, after not getting loose.

Patrik is now in an extremely dangerous situation himself.

The last time he put his eyes on the dive computer, it told him that he had to calculate roughly 120 minutes decompression on his way up. Now it suddenly shows 400 minutes!

When the numbers on the computer increase, Patrik becomes more and more afraid and his breathing is getting faster.

The rapid breathing is more dangerous than the high pulse. Carbon dioxide kills.

Patrik gets control of his breath, and begins the long ascent. He must take many decompression stops because he has stayed too long at great depths.

He decides that he will go up when he reaches six meters

Regardless of decompression, he can't stay in the water any longer.
He has been under under water for seven hours.

What about the others?

On his way up, Patrik starts thinking about the second team two hours behind. They will swim right onto the dead diver, and he has no opportunity to notify them.

At six meters Patrik sees something underneath. He swims down.

It is Vesa, the first one from the last team.

Vesa has managed to squeeze past his dead friend.

To do that, he had to remove the gear attached on his back and push it through.

They ascend much faster than they should.

Vesa has ascended too quickly, and he begins to show signs of decompression sickness. He feels the pressure in his joints, elbows and knees.

Vesa and Patrik are waiting one hour inside the dry cave in Steinugleflåget.

You should not exert yourself right after a dive. It can cause severe decompression sickness.

Now they have to get up and out if the dry cave

The cave is located 90 meters down and 250 meters inside the mountain. There is a narrow and dangerous passage which they have to climb to get out.

Patrik and Vesa get out of the cave, and by foot they are walking down the snowy valley of Plurdalen

They are continuously hoping the see the last two divers from the second team. But no one is coming. Again they get the bad feeling that something is very wrong.

At the farm down by the deep pool in Plurdalen they get food and dry clothes. Then, suddenly, they see a dim light in the dark, down by the deep pool. Everyone runs outside.

It is Kai, the last one of the divers.

Kai says that one of the divers in his group, which is also named Jari, is dead.

Jari U. has seen his dead namesake Jari H. in the narrow passage. Maybe something happened, maybe he was stressed or panicked at the sight.

Kai has seen Jari U. drown. He tried to help him, without success.

Then he discovered the dead Jari H., and he has seen how Vesa has managed to squeeze through the opening, past their deceased friend.

Kai then had to dive back through the deepest parts of the cave, before he could ascend towards the air chamber

The whole time he is thinking that the rest of the crew have perished and that he is the only one alive.

His propolusion vehicle malfuntioned when he reached the air chamber.

He needs to swim the rest of the way to get out of the cave.

When Kai finally surfaces, he has been underwater for 11 hours in what only can be described as a nightmare.

Patrik, Kai and Vesa leaves the Plura Valley

Jari H. og Jari U., are left behind deep inside the Norwegian mountain.

But the Finns return

The police authorities deemed the rescue operation as too dangerous and called off their rescue operation. The three surviving divers, and the rest of their cave diving friends have prepared for this situation, and in secret they have planned their own rescue operation.

The rescue operation consists of 17 Fins and 10 Norwegians.

The operation must be kept secret

The police authorities have banned anyone from entering the cave system, but the divers think it's easier to be forgived than permitted.

The divers have split their workload into two operations

They're going to do the recovery from two places.: One team from Plura, the other team from the dry cave inside Steinugleflåget, but not at the same time.

Plura

The cave in steinugleflåget

Underwater habitat

An underwater habitat is setup at six meters depth. The habitat is an air filled decompressionchamber under water, which is anchored to the cave walls. If anything goes wrong, and the decompression time is extended then the cold water could quickly become fatal. Inside the habitat it's possible to stay dry, and proceed with the vital decompression.

Vast amounts of equipment

A vast amount of equipment is carried down to the water surface inside of Steinugleflåget. Spare cylinders, DPVs (Diver Propulsion Vehicles), rebreathers, dive torches, dry suits, spare rebreathers, supplies and first aid kits. More than a thousand kilos of equipment is carried carefully down the dry cave, which is prone to rockslides.

From both sides of the cave, dive teams are placing gas cylinders.

A total of 50 cylinders

26 cylinders in Steinugleflåget, and 24 cylinders on the Pluraside

They are placed out on 6 meter, 21 meter, 56 meter, 75 meter, 90 meter and 100 meters depth

They also put extra rebreathers on each side of the cave.

A separate team of safety divers will bring them down, if anything goes wrong.

There is no doubt about who is going to do the deep dive.

Patrik og Sami Paakkarinen. Sami is probably one of the worlds best at what they are now planning to do

They are nine divers in the water

To teams of rescue divers are preparing in Steinugleflåget, while one team is ready at the other Plura-side of the flooded cave.

Their DPVs (Diver Propulsion Vehicle) are bringing them into the deep. Once again they are passing the deepest point in the flooded cave.

Since one of the victims got stuck in the same direction they now come from, they plan to pull him out by his feet.

After 50 minutes journey in the dark cave, they suddenly see reflections coming from the equipment of a deceased diver:

It's the second diver who perished in the cave. He lies peacefully in the water, at the same spot as he died 46 days ago.

20 meters ahead is the next victim, the one who got stuck.

They manage to pull the deceased through the deadly passage without problems.

They are now ahead of their planned schedule.

Sami and Patrik stops for decompression. They have to stay underwater for five hours.

The other divers take responsibility for the deceased. The last stage of the decompression at six meters depth takes 2.5 hours

The Finns are in a good mood in the evening. Everything has gone according to plan, and they are ahead of schedule.

The following day, Tuesday. Three divers are readying for the next dive

It's time to retrieve Jari U., the second diver who died. Secondly they want to clear the cave floor for equipment.

This time they take their descent from the shortest side, from the cave in Steinugleflåget.

The third diver, Jani Santala, waits at 100 meters depth (328 feet), while the two others descend the last 20 meters.

Once again they pass through the narrow passage. This time coming from the opposite side.

They struggle to get the equipment off the deceased, but after some time they manage to cut everything loose.

This time proves more difficult to get the deceased through the narrow passage.

It's endeavoring, but they succeed.

Sami clears the equipment from the cave floor. The other divers starts to tow the deceased carefully towards the surface.

Another successfull dive

The deceased is handed over. Patrik and Saami stops for their decompression.

They swim around for five hours, just waiting to get out of the water. Every now and then, the safety divers do regular checks to see if all is well.

The rescue operation has exceeded all expectations

Both camps are cleared Wednesday afternoon. Only the final part is left.

Everybody climbs down into Steinugleflåget for the last time. The two deceased, now surfaced, is brought out of the water and put in bodybags. It's time for a moment of silence. Everything is quiet.

The rescue mission is finished. The next morning the local police is notified that the rescue mission is a success and the two deceased is recovered from the cave. The hardest part is done. The Norwegian authorities assume the responsibility for the deceased.

6. february 2014
20.-26. march 2014