The sump started at a cave depth of 350m. “I then went off and did a pretty lonely and scary dive for 100 minutes,” said Fordyce.
He described the horizontal dive with a maximum dive-depth of 12m as “essentially negotiating a maze under water, while laying guidelines so I could find my way out, to find where the passage connected into the other cave.
“I picked a left wall and followed that a lot of the time. Then at times it would get too tight and so you have to go back and around. There were a couple of really low restrictions where I wasn’t sure I could get through and I had to really wriggle.”
He described the moment of meeting up with the Growling Swallet system, in which he had previously laid a line. “I was able to swim up and see the guideline that I put in four years ago, and tie the new guideline to the old guideline and put a marker saying ‘this is the connection point’.
“One of Australia’s most perplexing underground puzzles has been solved. This discovery is the result of the combined work of generations of cavers in Tasmania, and wouldn’t have been possible without a huge team effort.”
STC vice-president Dr Stefan Eberhard, who was part of the expedition team, said that establishing the link was important for building both scientific knowledge and environmental protection. “The Junee-Florentine caves contain features of great cultural, scientific and conservation value, including archaeological heritage sites, unique species of cave-adapted fauna, bones of extinct megafauna and ancient sediments deposited during glacial periods,” he said.
“Exploration of these caves is far from complete and much more of this complex and extraordinary puzzle remains to be discovered and mapped by speleologists and cave-divers for years to come.” During the expedition the support team had discovered a kilometre of new passage, while Fordyce had found a passage going towards another cave 3km away – providing a focus for the team’s next underground venture.
Besides Fordyce and Eberhard, the team consisted of Alan Jackson, Gabriel Kinzler, Serena Benjamin, Fraser Johnston, Petr Smejkal, Patrick Eberhard, Chris Sharples and Rolan Eberhard.
A documentary film, Tartarus: The Search for the Junee Master Cave, is due for release at a later date.