BY SHEILA HARRIS Special for the Democrat of Cassville
With high water flow and a small crew, KISS Rebreathers team divers spent most of their planned May visit to Roaring River Spring working on a planned documentary about their exploration of the cave and the source.
Videographer Tim Bass, with TL Bass Telepictures, of Bentonville, Ark., put Team KISS’ lone diver, Gayle Orner, in the spotlight first. Although Orner confesses that she freezes in front of a video camera, she did an admirable job answering the list of questions prepared by Bass and head diver/CEO of Kiss Rebreathers, Mike Young.
During a prior discussion with Mike Young about adjusting platforms under underwater habitats to accommodate the height of individual divers, Orner joked that, for her – as a woman – it was a treat to cling to the habitat, let alone stand. this.
Orner clarified by saying that she feels honored to have been asked to join the male dive team and does not feel like the token female member at all.
“Gayle was definitely invited for the skills she brings to the table,” said Mike Young.
These skills include surveying inside the Upper Cavern.
“We dropped a ‘golden’ survey line from the Colossal Dome, almost to the restriction of this trip,” Mike Young said. “It’s not perfectly vertical, but it’s a heavier line weight. When it’s secure, we can attach horizontal lines to it on our next trip and extend them to the sides of the cavern to get more accurate measurements of the interior.
Orner and safety diver Neil Brownlow answered questions from the documentary about the difference between rescue air tanks and decompression tanks that divers have access to underwater, as well as the importance of decompression itself. same.
“As a diver goes deeper into the water, the nitrogen in the air they breathe is compressed into their body (in the form of bubbles),” Orner said. “If it rises to the surface too quickly, it would be a bit like opening a Coke bottle after shaking it.”
The need for decompression varies depending on the depth of a dive and the time spent at a particular depth.
A rapid ascent without decompression could result in serious injury or death to a diver.
“Cold temperatures are an enemy when a diver decompresses,” Orner said. “Because your blood circulation slows in cold water, it takes longer to degas nitrogen, so no matter how cold you are, you need to decompress a bit longer.”
The rebreathers used by the KISS team allow divers to reuse oxygen from their exhaled breaths, so their equipment is much more compact than traditional open-circuit scuba gear. However, rebreathers also require technical expertise to manage this oxygen flow.
“We each wear oxygen analyzers on a computer strapped to our wrists,” said Mike Young. “Our body’s oxygen needs decrease the further down we go in the water, so we constantly monitor how much we take in. Too much oxygen can be just as toxic as too little oxygen, so we need to stay in a safe range.”
For deep dives, KISS divers use a tri-mixture of gases including helium, nitrogen and oxygen.
“Helium displaces nitrogen and reduces its narcotic effect,” said Neil Brownlow.
Brownlow said the use of rescue bottles and decompression bottles which are staged at different depths along dive routes.
“We can upgrade to a rescue bottle if we develop a problem with our rebreather,” he said. “Then we can use the gas from a decompression (deco) bottle to speed up our decompression, so we can get to the surface faster.”
Individual decompression cylinders (or tanks) are clearly marked for different depths and contain the specific gas mixture a diver needs for that depth.
Orner said that in the eight years she owned and used a KISS rebreather, she never had to give up using it. Young, who designed the KISS rebreathers, said he hasn’t had to bail out since the testing and experimentation stages were completed on the rebreathers more than a decade ago.
Young said it premixes most gases in tanks at its manufacturing facility in Fort Smith, Ark. All tanks – whether mixed in its factory or elsewhere – are tested for the presence of carbon monoxide before being used. Although the analyzer is expensive, it’s a test Young learned the need for after losing a friend to carbon monoxide poisoning on a diving expedition in Cozumel many years ago. His friend, Young said, had obtained the untested mixed gas tank from an outside source.
“Carbon monoxide is odorless and tasteless, so its effects don’t kick in until it’s too late,” Young said.
Carbon monoxide can enter tanks from the exhaust of fuel-powered generators used for compression, or even from passing automobiles through areas where tanks are filled. While Young is still haunted by the incident, he says he learned from it and added an extra layer of safety to his team’s dive preparations.
Young compares the job of a cave diver to that of an airplane pilot.
“When a skydiver jumps out of an airplane, there’s a bit of chaos that ensues — a period of time where they feel out of control,” he said. “As cave divers, we are more like the pilot of this plane. We like to be in control of a situation, much like a pilot. We carefully plan each dive in advance and allow for contingencies for things that could go wrong, and try to prepare for them, just in case they happen.
“Fundamentally, I think our desire to explore is why we love cave diving. That’s why we do what we do.
Young’s wife, Sheri, calls herself Mike’s second love, and she’s okay with it.
“Mike doesn’t make much of his dive plans,” Sheri Young said. “He is quite discreet. When he told me he had the opportunity to dive Roaring River Spring early last year, I didn’t think too much about it. I just asked him if there was indoor plumbing available. He was so simple I thought it was on par with some of the other dive trips he had been on since we were married. It was only later that I learned that he had been trying to get permission to dive in the cave for over 10 years.
Sheri Young, who honeymooned with Mike in a tent during unusually cold temperatures on a Florida dive trip, is grateful for the accommodations and amenities extended to divers by Roaring River State Park and by Don and Missy Craig, owners of Roaring River Resort and RV Park.
The Craigs, who have donated cabin space to divers for their monthly visits in 2022, strongly believe that what the KISS team is doing is important for tourism in the region.
“We know all of their trips were self-funded and we wanted to help out,” Missy Craig said. “We brainstormed different fundraising ideas and ways to contribute and decided which accommodation donation made the most sense to us.”
Roaring River Resort and RV Park has 46 campsites, most of which are reserved through annual contracts. The resort, which is open year-round, also has a hotel with 22 rooms and six spacious cabins. Just up the hill from Tim’s Fly Shop, Craigs is expanding the complex to include 12 studio apartments, which are currently under construction.
The next exploration of Roaring River Spring by the KISS team is scheduled for June 10-12.