Dive into the past
When Jörgen Andersson isn’t working as a product manager, he likes to pull on his scuba gear and dive into an old, water-filled mine. On display beneath the surface are forgotten but well-preserved mining workplaces and spectacular caverns.
It’s pitch-black, deep within the belly of the earth. The only light comes from our head-mounted lights and flashlights, which illuminate railway sleepers on the ground, a switchboard on the wall and a bundle of drill steel – all testament to the industrial activities that once took place here. We’re 80 metres beneath the surface of the earth in the old Tuna Hästberg mine, outside Borlänge in central Sweden.
The mine provides Jörgen Andersson with a way of challenging himself. A product manager at Seco Tools during working hours, he regularly dives in the kilometre-long, water-filled former industrial spaces located beneath our feet.
“I’ve been involved in sports diving since I was 16 and I’ve been a scuba diving instructor for 22 years,” he explains. “A year ago, I felt I was faced with the choice of either quitting or of developing myself as a scuba diver. That’s when I first heard about this mine.”
“It’s not about exploring the unknown, but about exploring the forgotten.”
Tuna Hästberg is an old iron mine located between the towns of Borlänge and Ludvika and dating from approximately the 16th century. The mining of iron ore here continued right up until 1968. Today, the almost 600-metre deep mine is filled with water up to a depth of about 520 metres.
“Diving in a mine is, of course, completely different to diving in a lake or in the sea,” says Andersson. “Down here it’s not about exploring the unknown, but about exploring the forgotten. Not many people dive in mines, but it’s an incredible experience.”
It’s easy to understand what Andersson is talking about. As we wander through the mine, even the sections above water are fascinating. All of a sudden, we find ourselves in a gigantic break-room with a ceiling that’s vertiginously high. Nearby, abysses open up to reveal that the water’s edge isn’t far beneath us. The water is crystal clear, with visibility of at least 30 metres.
“So, you can imagine what it feels like to hover weightless through this water in this environment,” Andersson says. “It’s a mix of feeling completely relaxed while at the same time having to be incredibly focused.”
Diving requires rigorous precautions
Ropes are attached to the walls of the water-filled former workspaces to assist the divers. A great deal of thought has been given to safety.
“When you train to become a mine diver, almost everything revolves around solving problems,” Andersson says. “If anything happens down here, you can’t just surface. Although it’s incredibly beautiful and otherworldly, it’s also a very hostile environment should anything happen.”
To avoid damage to both suits and equipment and to avoid getting caught on objects in this former workplace, the divers’ swimming technique, equipment and judgement all have to be perfect. If a diver gets too close to the bottom in the diving environment, the sediment can be disturbed, reducing the visibility to zero. A large part of the training involves practising for breakdowns and emergencies. Divers need to be able to find their way back to the entrance, even in complete darkness.
“One of the differences between this and regular sports diving is that we always have back-up systems of everything with us – extra breathing gas, extra lights, two separate scuba systems, and so on,” says Andersson. “In total, all the equipment weighs close to 50 kilograms.”
The only serious incident Andersson has been involved in occurred during the mine-diving course when he failed to pressure equalize between 12 and 21 metres and burst an eardrum. He was fortunate to not have sustained permanent damage to his hearing.
Mine diving is always undertaken in groups of two or three, and an average dive lasts about an hour. The cold limits the length of dives. The water temperature is only four degrees Celsius and despite the fact that Andersson wears a thick underlayer close to his body, it gets cold. As a result, it’s very pleasant after a dive to go into the heated mine cabin located next to the dive platform, have a cup of coffee and chat for a bit while your body returns to its normal temperature.
Considers practical experience invaluable
Andersson’s working career began at ABB in the Swedish town of Ludvika where he spent 10 years working on a CNC milling machine. In 2000, he commenced studies at the Swedish School of Mining and Metallurgy in Filipstad, eventually graduating with a bachelor of science in metallurgy and materials. He next undertook a masters in materials science and did his thesis work at Seco Tools. He was employed by the company in 2006 to work in milling development. Today, he is Corporate Product Manager for Milling and Minimaster Products.
“Without academic qualifications I wouldn’t have got this job,” he says. “But the truth of the matter is that the 10 years that I spent on the milling machine were probably the most valuable for me. I have first-hand experience with the application and this is invaluable.”
So, is there anything here, down in the deep, that relates back to Andersson’s work at Seco Tools? “No, hardly anything. The bits of old drill steel we find down here are about as close as you come,” he says with a laugh. “It’s actually the opposite. Diving allows you to totally disconnect from the everyday world. I enjoy it enormously, particularly after a dive when you relax and talk about your diving experience. Then I really get a smile on my face.”
From having been on the verge of giving up diving entirely, Andersson is now looking forward to developing further. “Now I feel like I have a reason to stick with it for at least another 15 years,” he says. “There’s lots to learn and lots of different levels within the mine to dive on. And there’s also lots of interesting mines in Sweden.”
By Karin Strand Photos by Jacek Majek (Underwater photos) and Jonas Gauffin
Background: Three years of workshop training at high school, 10 years working on a milling machine at ABB in Ludvika, bachelor of science in metallurgy and materials from the Swedish School of Mining and Metallurgy in Filipstad, masters in materials science, Global Product Manager for Copy Milling Tools and Minimaster Products at Seco Tools.
Family: Wife and five kids.
Leisure activities: “There’s only time for work, family and diving.”
Three tips for when diving in mines
“Undertake specialised training. There’s a big difference between regular scuba diving and mine diving.”
“Give yourself time to develop. Don’t undertake difficult dives too soon.”
“Don’t cut corners when it comes to pre-dive planning. Be extra thorough with the check list.”