'There is no rescue - only recovery, if you're lucky'

Wed, Sep 7, 2011, 01:00

“THERE are so few places on the planet where one is truly an explorer, that’s the motivation. It means we had to be totally self-sufficient, as there is no rescue – only recovery, if you are lucky.”

The words of Polish cave diver Artur Kozlowski (34), in an interview with The Irish Timesa year ago, after he and his colleague, Belgian Jim Warny, set a new Irish-British record for traversing underground flooded caves in south Galway.

The quantity surveyor, living in Ireland since 2006, was a highly experienced cave diver who had explored many systems on the west coast and in the northeast, and had recently returned from an expedition to Cueva Molino caves in the Spanish Cantrabrian mountains.

Kozlowski’s passion was to travel with “tanks, tent, sleeping bag, dry suit and regulators” to explore virgin territory – in Monaghan, or Fermanagh, or Galway, or the “Hell complex”, as he termed it, in Doolin, Co Clare.

Doolin Coast Guard confirmed yesterday that he had run over his estimated expedition time on several previous occasions.

In each case, there had been a happy outcome; calculated and detailed preparation, including placing of “stage” bottles of oxygen, had been an integral part of his approach to pushing limits.

“Exploration is an obsession; once you taste it nothing else will taste remotely as good,” Kozlowski wrote in one his most recent website posts. It was also an obsession that required a “tight rein” if it was not to destroy everything around one, he observed.

He had been drawn repeatedly to the Gort lowland area between the Slieve Aughty mountains and the Burren.

The karst limestone labyrinths have been explored extensively by cave divers since the early 1980s, and it was here that Wales-based speleologist Martyn Farr, who trained Kozlowski, set a record for the longest (245m) and deepest (34m) sump in Ireland.

Farr, one of the world’s most experienced practitioners, was a member of the Dark Shamrock expedition which navigated more than 3km of underwater caves between Gort and Moy villages south of Kinvara in the 1990s.

Farr had also discovered Pollatoomary in Mayo’s Partry mountains in 1978, but Kozlowski cracked it 30 years later in what his mentor described as a “very exciting achievement”.

In July 2008, Kozlowski reached 103m (338ft) below ground in the Pollatoomary cave, supported by speleologist Tom Malone. The record surpassed the previous British/Irish descent of 90m attributed to Britain’s deepest cave, Wookey Hole, in the Mendip hill in Somerset.

Last year, he increased the known length of Fermanagh’s Marble Arch caves from 4.5km to 12km, making it the second longest cave in Ireland – finding that it connected to the Cascades and Upper Cradle cave systems.

He offered his services to residents of south Galway after extensive flooding during the winter of 2009-2010. “If he came across features which affected road plans, he would highlight it,” Kiltartan resident David Murray said last night.