Slovenia's cave divers well prepared for challenges

Nova Gorica, 5 February - In a recent evacuation of a group from the Križna Jama cave rescue divers played a key role. In Slovenia there are 16 trained cave divers, equipped for the most difficult rescue efforts, head of the unit Damir Podnar told the STA.

Križna Jama
Rescuers help five people trapped in the Križna Jama cave.
Photo: Cave Rescue Service/Facebook
File photo

Križna Jama
Rescuers dive to help five people who have been trapped in the Križna Jama cave since Saturday.
Photo: Cave Rescue Service/Facebook
File photo

The unit is part of the Civil Protection and was founded in 1989, when accidents in flooded caves and lakes became more common. Before, foreign divers, mainly from Switzerland and France, had to be called to the rescue when accidents happened in Slovenia, said Podnar.

In Slovenia one of the culprits was the Wild Lake (Divje Jezero), where several divers lost their lives because of unsuitable equipment or small mistakes during the dive.

In 1989 the Slovenian Speleological Association decided to form a cave diving team in Slovenia. The first team leader assembled all cave divers, the team began training and later received equipment, said Podnar.

Most divers are trained to dive in open seas or lakes. "Our team comes into play when the diving conditions are poor," said Podnar, listing larger depths, worse visibility, cold water, diving under ice or in enclosed spaces as some of the more challenging conditions. "We're active in power plants, caves, lakes and rivers, everywhere where conditions are too complicated for other divers," said Podnar.

That is why team members have to meet strict conditions. A cave diver has to also be active in caving and go through training in cave rescue. Candidates have to meet the team and then take on specialised training. As part of the team, divers have regular exercises, some with other rescue services and some with foreign diving teams.

Cave diving also requires a good mental state, said Podnar, adding that time shows who is fit for cave diving and who is not. Cave diving often takes place in enclosed spaces and relies on orientation by touch, which can be challenging. Good teamwork and complete trust among team members are crucial, said Podnar.

Currently the team consists of 16 divers, divided into the main rescue team and the support team. There is also a doctor on the team, trained to dive through sumps.

The team has helped in rescue efforts in North Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. "We also search for missing persons in deep lakes," said Podnar.

The cave divers have to pay close attention to their equipment. At a recent rescue drill with Italian divers, the team found that they are well prepared and well equipped for challenging dives.

Most recently the diving team took part in an evacuation from the Križna Jama cave, where five people were stranded after water levels rose. Divers had to reach the group and pull them through a sump before they were transported from the cave in a dinghy. All five people were rescued in perfect health in what was the first major operation in which cavers and divers worked together.

© STA, 2024