Thursday, February 15, 2007

Photo page is up

Mine Quest photo page is now available:


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Map showing approximate location of lines and places of interest

We laid approximately two kilometres of line in #2 Mine during the expedition in spite of challenging conditions. We discovered numerous artefacts -- too many to catalog in the time allotted -- and our initial impression of the areas of mine we visited shows no apparent sign of collapse or cave-in. The depth of the seam varies from four metres to about two metres and spacing of "ribs" (the pillars of rock and ore left as supports) is quite irregular drifting from one metre (as in the area we called the squeeze) to ten metres or more. We discovered several areas with graffiti drawn on the walls including the James Bennett Room which was one of the most interesting. At first we thought the miners had used lumps of charcoal on the ribs but learned by talking to Bell Islanders that the miners turned up their carbide lamps and used the soot to trace out their designs. While visibility in some areas was a true challenge, other portions of the mine featured extremely good visibility. We put this variance down to snow melt and run-off and temperature differences in spring water and the run-off.

Our overall conclusion is that Mine # 2 should be opened for qualified divers with certain restrictions that will be contained in our final report to the Bell Island heritage Society.

The accompanying map shows approximate locations of lines laid (actual lines extend beyond borders of this map) and also shows some of the features we discovered during our exlporations. Please note that this map is intended for discussion only and in this version is not accurate enough for future dive planning.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Funeral Services for Joe Steffen

This past Sunday and Monday (February 11 and 12), some team members were fortunate enough to make it to the Cleveland area to attend visitation and funeral services for Joe. It's difficult to describe the impact Joe had on friends and workmates, but the sheer numbers of mourners and a mile-long procession from the funeral home to the church was some testament.

An education fund for Joe’s young son will be set up this week by an Ohio-based dive club called Aqua Amigos so visit ( if you are interested in finding out more details.

You may also be interested in the local newspaper’s take on Monday’s events… 21849&rfi=6

Joseph T. Steffen will live on through his children.

Those were the words Monday from the Rev. Sal Ruggeri of St. Gregory the Great Church as hundreds of family and friends packed the South Euclid church to pay tribute to the retired Richmond Heights police lieutenant-turned-councilman.
Steffen, 51, died Feb. 4 during a scuba diving expedition in Newfoundland.

He was an experienced diver with five years under his belt. Diving was one of the many sports that Steffen loved, Ruggeri said.
Steffen was instrumental in bringing the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program to the Richmond Heights area. The children knew him as "Officer Joe," and both kids and parents turned to him for advice, Ruggeri said. He was also a church member who would volunteer for any task needed, the minister said.

He was a public servant who never asked for anything in return, Ruggeri said.
"He was also a prankster," Ruggeri said with a smile.

Friends smiled softly as Ruggeri talked of Steffen's annual Halloween display, calling it one of the best in Richmond Heights. It made the children happy - which was what Steffen loved to do, Ruggeri said.

Moments after the reverend talked of Steffen's playful pranks, the lights and power briefly went out in the church.

"That's our Joe," one church-goer whispered.

Richmond Heights Police Chief Gene Rowe described his longtime friend as an excellent police officer who quickly moved up the ranks from patrolman to lieutenant. He was always on the go, not even wanting to sit in his office because he wanted to get back to work, the chief said.

"He was like the (Energizer) bunny - only bigger," Rowe said.

Rowe illustrated his friend's outstanding public service by reading letters sent to him about Steffen's ability to go above and beyond the call of duty, no matter what the task.
Once, he made snowballs for a 3-year-old, only to be hit with those same snowballs.
Steffen is survived by his wife, Jennifer; daughter, Lindsey; son, Joey; mother, Helen Nero; and several siblings.
Joey and Steffen's niece Dawn Culp, both members of the Singing Angels, joined other members of their group to sing "Let There Be Peace on Earth."

It was a fitting tribute to a man who lived his life to keep the peace, friends said.

©The News-Herald 2007

Friday, February 9, 2007

Wrap-up and parting

Final day... some team members have gone home but there are eight of us packing our bags and getting ready for flights to various parts of the world, and the exploration phase of the project has been successfully concluded.

Over the next several days, the full reality of what happened to Joe and the rest of the team on Bell Island will finally sink in. The events of our final day on the island offered a small consolation as we placed in the mine, at the spot on the gold line where Joe's body was found, a memorial white cross. That evening, the people and council of Bell Island hosted the dive and support team at a special supper... which was fantastic... and one of the speakers said something we found profoundly moving.

"Long after all of us are in our final resting place," he said. "Joe Steffen will be remembered fondly by the people of Bell Island, because of the sacrifice he made in order to bring something special to this island."

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Extending Jump 29 (East Shallow) line

On Tuesday, Feb 6, we extended the Jump 29 line by another ~600ft, so that East shallow line is now about 1,500 ft long running in depths betweem 25 ft and 45 ft (6 and 13 meters).

While my buddy was tying off the jump spool to go East, I took snaps of the directional marker pointing to Jump 30 (West Shallow) line placed in there by other team members to help the Jump 30 team with their navigation.

Throughout the expedition, East shallow line consistently had the best visibility. Due to recent snow/ rain / snow sequence and increased runoff that affected the whole system, the visibility on the first 800 ft on the East line declined . Visibility then improved dramatically further East as we were adding new line, allowing us to stay in the same tunnel. Earlier, putting down the first 1,000 ft of line , the team encountered column numbers 11, 12, 13, 15. We saw 19, 20, 21 and 22 when adding the 600 ft of line on Tuesday.

The find of the day for me, along with the column numbers was a little blue teapot sitting in the red rubble.

VLD - Vlada Dekina

Photo Updates

As our expedition is coming to an end, some of the team members have already returned home or are in the process of travelling. That includes me, so i will try to catch up with photo updates in the next couple of posts. We will eventually have a page for this expedition with all the pictures.

On Monday, February 5 the photography team returned to Pump area hoping for slightly improved visibility, compared to previous day. As we travelled though very limited vis on a main line to get to the pump, the hopes for better vis were fading. As we turned the corner towards the pump area, we discovered that visibility was indeed slightly better enabling us to produce some pictures that give people an idea of how big the pump really is. Given the dept (32 meters or 115 ft max) and the distance (about 10 min swim), the pump would likely be one of the prime tourist attractions in the mine.

Another task for photo team was to improve on the pictures of James Bennet name from the day before. The name is painted on a wall in the pump area alongside the little portrait of, presumably, James Bennet. On a way out, photo team also stumbled upon the rather large saw and a remains of the ore cart. We also cleaned up some lines around pump area.

With main line, deep East and West lines and shallow East and West lines installed, the measuring completed and position of lines known, our pre-expedition mandate was essentially completed at that point. In addition, we also created 2 circuit – one around the pump and one on the East line (that was getting better visibility throughout the week that the rest of the system).

VLD - Vlada Dekina

Tuesday's Progress

Tuesday was bonus line day and we were able to add several hundered metres of new line including the Jump 67 line (Smeagle's Siding) which follows an old rail bed from the Gold Line east for 200 metres. The team extending the Jump 30 line ran across the original flag line left in Gord's Room last July.

Picture above shows Stephen and Aaron with the special line arrow made especially to point them to the Jump 30 line which eluded them for a couple of days.

Tomorrow -- Wednesday -- we will place a memorial for Joe Steffen in the main passage where he met with his accident.

Monday, February 5, 2007

We will go on...

After the accident, the dive team and our wonderful volunteers huddled together in a room trying to come to grips with what just happened.

Shock, denial, profound sense of loss and overwhelming sadness - the feelings and emotions that we were experiencing are impossible to describe even now, one day later. Everyone's reaction to an event of that magnitude is different and we all cope and deal with the aftershocks in unique ways. Being together with our teammates and volunteers helped a lot as did a prayer led by a priest from a local church.

The support from our volunteers, Bell Island Historical Society and the Mayor of the Bell Island was unequivocal. As soon as the news spread, people started to arrive to say few words of support to each of us, shake our hands, bring us food and offer to help in any way they could. As a team, it helped us tremendously and we can't thank them enough.

We spent the rest of the day at our lodge, all together. Few hours later, as the reality of what happened sunk in, the question was raised about the future of the project, whether or not it was to continue.

The vote from the dive team was unanimous - we wanted to continue. And we also had a vote from Bell Island Historical society supporting that decision. We wanted to do it for Joe, for the people of Bell Island who made us feel like we were their family and for ourselves as we all believed that the project could be successful despite the adversity.

So it was decided that we would carry one and expand on the tasks completed in Day 6 which were extending the main line to 60 meters and photographing the pump area. Below are some shots from Day 6 - all artifacts are from the pump area (short distance from main line at 115 ft (35 meters)) and further away on the East deep line.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Deepest regret

It is with the deepest regrets that I have to announce that Joe Steffen, well-known in the diving communities in both the Great Lakes and North Florida, died today while exploring the flooded mine on Bell Island.

The incident is under investigation by the RCMP.

Joe was brought to the surface by fellow team members at approximately 13:05 local time and attempts to revive him at the dive site and the medical facility adjacent to the mine were unsuccessful.

We have lost a great buddy. Joe leaves behind a wife and young son... and many, many friends.

Sunday's tasks

Since we are a little ahead of our modified work schedule, today is the day for some housekeeping. We will get our large concrete anchors into the system and in place on the gold line and at the start of the shallow east and west jumps (Jump 29 and 30). Have still photography of the main water pump found at 34 metres, planned and will try to extend the gold line to our target depth of 60 metres. And finally, a team will follow line already in tunnel 30 jump to the spool and extend it to the end of the 300 metres of line it carries. (Original team encountered a blocked passage and poor vis on initial push.)

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Day 5- extended push and reline

The winds have died down and the Tickle, the local name for the body of water between Bell Island and Portugal Cove, was flat as glass. We had received the kermantle on Thursday evening and had planned on relining the main line with it. Two teams had 1000ft spools set to go.

Again, the volunteers were great. Gear was taken down into the mine and divers were ably assisted into the water. More video and pictures were planned for, as well as a big push to the west of the main line. We were successful in both efforts. The main line was relined and straightened to the pump room. The west team ran their line out into a dead end. The video team ended up with twenty five minutes of usable video, as the system had a pretty visible mud line from the floor to halfway up the passages.

We have been getting three hours of in water time on the RB's and 90 minutes on OC. With the number of divers and support staff, we have been getting further into our schedule than we thought we would get by this time. We were excited by the deep push setup today with the gold line getting down to 43 meters. This is past the 58 passage on the mine map, quite a way in as the slope starts to settle out.

It has been truly amazing to hear the excited stories from each diver. Despite the constant presence of the local media and documentary team, we have been open in sharing all aspects of the dive, successes, failures, equipment issues (two lights so far, both repaired). The amount of artifacts we have been finding has been exciting, as you are constantly on the look around the next passage to see what is held there. Short rail tracks, rail ties, wagon wheels, spikes, shovels, metal bars, canvas tool bags, support poles... all exciting to us. To think that the miners were making these passages all by hand, Wow. Some of the main rooms have exceeded my previously held ideas, as they exceed 100ft by 100ft in size. Too bad the visibility is so poor as it would be great to see from one side to the other.

We have constantly commented on the amount of support poles we have found on the floor, and the amount of breakdown we are finding. Needless to say, we have been looking overhead a lot during our dives. We did have one pole fall already during a dive, the divers had used it as a tie off, but it turns out the pole was not as firmly positioned floor to ceiling as it appeared, and after they had swum away, began to topple.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Day 4 - More mine diving

We were met by a beautiful day, warm weather and water.....Ok, not really. The winds have kicked up quite a bit today and the snow is flying. Everyone was excited to get back into the water as the debrief left several areas of possibilities to enhance the dive time. The line arrows arrived and several more exploration reels were respooled with 48 line. The volunteers have been phenomenal as they have been great going up and down the sixteen degree slope with all our kit and making sure any last minute items are obtained.

We had planned to obtain pictures and some video of the push today and add new line. Both goals were accompished rapidly as the comfort level of the divers has increased with their growing knowledge of the passages. We have found a moderate current in many of the passages. There seems to be an underground river coming down into the passages from the surface drainage area. Fortunately, with the three feet of snow on the ground and the cold temperature, the amount of runoff has decreased. It has still affected visibility in many passages as flying particulate keeps raining down upon us.

This time we had no camera crew there and it was more of a "get in and dive" day and see what can be found.

We had a few problems with lights, O2 sensors and little equipment quirks, but all these were overcome quite quickly which meant that the divers got in and had an enjoyable dive.

Some artifacts like large wheel a pump were found as well as remains of old rail cars and rail lines that the miners used.

It was great to see the smiles on all the faces as we were successful on both fronts, the video footage even made it on CBC across Canada. Now for that long walk back up the mine shaft with the gear..........