South Africa has a new World Record holder for deep cave diving. Karen van den Oever recently broke the female record with a dive of 236.04 metres at Boesmansgat in the Northern Cape.

The previous record stood for over 16 years and was also held by a South African woman, Verna van Schaik. Her record was 221 metres.

Joy and relief flooded Van den Oever’s support team when she broke the surface at Boesmansgat in the Northern Cape after 7 hours and 18 minutes, holding the 236 metres tag, making her most likely the new female deep cave diving World Record holder.

“It’s taken a while to sink in. Some people still say to me, do you realise you are a world record holder and I say, ‘well, I guess, not really.’ I don’t think it’s really sunk in. This is just … it’s been almost a life-long dream, but it was just like another dive and breaking the record was just another bonus added on to that.”

It only took Van den Oever 15 minutes to get to 236 metres, where there is no light.

“It is quite scary, but I think it’s a mindset. You have to psychologically train your mind to deal with those circumstances that you find yourself in. But you carry enough light, so I had more than one torch. If one broke I had three more. So, you plan for those kinds of things.”

She had planned to go down to 250 metres but at 236 metres she decided to abandon her plan, which might just have saved her life because she didn’t notice her feet were tangled in a line.

“I turned at 236 meters. I unclipped that tag from the line and clipped it to myself. Then I started inflating my buoyancy compensators, which should have lifted me to start coming back up. But I inflated them and nothing happened. That’s when I started getting quite concerned that I should be moving up but nothing’s happening. So, I started to pull myself up on the line, trying to fin up. But unfortunately at those depths, any kind of exertion is actually very dangerous because of the density of the gas that you are breathing. So, because of that, I got carbon monoxide and started hyper ventilating and I really struggled to catch my breath.”

She started moving up and managed to loosen the line from her legs at 211 metres.

“It was very frightening. I think it was one of the closest calls I ever had in my diving career. And that has really scared me.”

Van den Oever used 27 oxygen cylinders on her way up, which took just over 7 hours. She says it took years of preparation, a team of 15 divers and overcoming her discomfort in caves for her to be able to attempt to break the record.

“I’m not sure why I wanted to do it. I think it maybe started off as a bit of an ‘I’ll show you that I can do this.’ But I think overtime, it’s developed into much more than that. It’s about a personal journey or learning and growth and having to better myself to get to a point where I was able to tackle this record.”

Van den Oever has sent all the documentation to the Guinness World Record offices in London for verification. She says while she might consider trying to break her own record in future, for now, she is happy to just be the female World Record holder for deep cave diving.