Jill Heinerth has dived further into caves than any woman in history. She is also one of a handful of people to dive inside an iceberg.
In the autumn of 2000, an exceptionally large object began its journey through the Ross Sea in Antarctica. The object, a B-15 iceberg dubbed ‘Godzilla’, didn’t go unnoticed. It attracted the attention of a small team of rebreather divers who decided it was a great idea to do the improbable. Cave dive into the inner sanctum of an iceberg.
Cave diving can be a challenging sport at the best of times, and part of it is psychological. On every dive you leave behind the human comfort zone of light, warmth and unlimited breathable gas. With cave diving however you do not have a clear surface to swim to when your dive doesn’t go according to plan. And if you are not appropriately prepared, trained, disciplined and equipped, the gas and light reserves you carry can soon run out, often with fatal consequences. Now add into the mix an unstable dynamic environment where you can get lost or become trapped, and things can really get exciting.
Jill’s first dive into Godzilla was not quite as simple as she had hoped. She cautiously entered a deep underwater crevasse with her dive partner and found a gaping fissure that extended out of sight. Sheer white walls dropped interminably in a narrow crack. She swam into the fracture a good distance and drifted down to the sea floor. At 40 metres / 130 feet the team discovered that the berg was undercut and the divers swam into a dazzling world of colourful tunicates, sea stars and curious creatures. Brilliant reds cast a glow on the underside of the ice. The allure of the teeming life was entrancing as Jill continued to swim into the great berg and explore the expansive cave environment. Great currents had carved conduits and passageways through the ice and large scalloped hollows textured the walls like dimples on a giant golf ball. It was similar to the karst environments that she was familiar with, only it was ice not rock.
And then Jill heard a faint moaning reverberate around her. Not recognizing the sound, she checked her rebreather. Not finding anything awry she turned the dive, heading out of the iceberg. Part way though her decompression stop Jill noticed the terrain had changed. The entrance looked significantly different than when she had begun her dive. As she snaked her way out through the ice, she looked up to the waiting boat to observe the topside team in the midst of obvious celebration.
They had been frantic during Jill’s dive because a deep and frightening groan had issued forth from Godzilla. A large piece of ice in the opening had calved and sealed the very doorway Jill and her partner had entered. No wonder topside support was so happy to see them alive. Little did Jill know at the time that this dive inside Godzilla would be the easiest dive of that expedition. Once you get inside an iceberg cave sometimes you can’t get out.
PADI Professional Jill Heinerth will be talking about her adventures of diving Ice Island at TEKDiveUSA.2014 in Miami this May. Why not be in the audience to to hear her. You can get your ticket online at http://www.tekdiveusa.com now and join other like minded divers at North America’s advanced and technical diving conference.