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What Was Life Like on the Mars? Cold Water Forensics with Explorer Richard Lundgren

This summer Richard Lundgren and his select team of the Mars veterans, aka Martians will return to the source to hopefully answer the question, “What was life really like for the 600-800 sailors on Mars The Magnificent, King Erik XIV’s warship, which was lost in battle and sank in 1564 in the Baltic Sea. Unfortunately, they don’t know where the bodies are buried, yet; that’s the focus of this summer’s research. We turned to Our Favorite Martian to bring us up to speed on the project and the state of their undersea forensics.

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by Michael Menduno

Header Image: Kirill Egorov

Richard Lundgren is arguably one of the most prolific shipwreck explorers of our time. The 49-year old, ex-commercial diver, photographer & filmmaker, GUE instructor trainer, and expedition leader has discovered more than 120 shipwrecks in the Baltic Sea since the 1990s. He accomplished all this while fielding photographic assignments from the likes of National Geographic, the BBC, The History Channel, The Discovery Channel and others. 

The Crowning Jewel? In May 2011, with his team from Ocean Discovery. Lundgren found Sweden’s most famous shipwreck—Mars the Magnificent—King Erik XIV’s warship, which had been lost in battle and sank in 1564 in the Southeast Baltic Sea. In finding The Mars, he fulfilled a vow that he made as a precocious eight-year old boy–one day he would “find the ship” after visiting the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. 

Most of Lundgren’s time over the last eight years has been occupied with documenting and studying the wreck in cooperation with a number of government, academic, and scientific organizations. Their work included pioneering the use of photogrammetry and 3D modeling, which not only helps scientists, but also informs the public about the find.

We caught up with Lundgren as he and his veteran team of “Martians” were planning to further explore the wreck in hopes of answering the question: What was life like on Mars? Here’s what our favorite Martian had to say about the status of the project.

InDepth: How has the Mars documentary been received?

Lundgren: It’s had great success. It’s been shown in over 30 countries, and it’s showing on the Smithsonian channel in the U.S. It’s also available online in many languages, though its not on Netflix.

I know that your photomosaic treatment of the wreck also received broad coverage.

The photomosaic was on 64 magazine covers and the 3D model adds to this success.

OMG! That must be some sort of record. Weren’t you working on a 3D model of the wreck as well?

Yes, we received a grant from National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program to build a model which is now complete. One of the most advanced 3D model of a shipwreck ever. It was created from 30,000 images and is accurate to less than centimeters. In full resolution, you need a fantastic computer to see it all. We’re creating an entire website for it. We’ve also printed a scale model that is 1:25, 2 x 1.6 x 08 m, which is in the Västerviks Museum in Västervik, Sweden. 

One of the most advanced 3D model of a shipwreck ever. It was created from 30,000 images and is accurate to less than centimeters.

I understand it was quite challenging to create.

We wanted to make a 3D model but didn’t want to make it using 2D images. We wanted to make scientifically correct. People told us that it was impossible to do.  Of course, they said that about finding Mars as well. But that made it even more motivating for us. 

How long did it take you?

It took us five years to take all the pictures and create the model. That part of the project was self-funded, so it took a lot of time. Now we have the problem that other outlets and channels are interested in the model. How can you price such a thing? How many trimix dives did it take to get 20-30k images? It’s almost funny now. They can bid for it, but what they are willing to pay only covers a few days of diving.

But the coolest thing is this. The Mars will be one of Facebook’s new Oculus Quest VR platform. That’s really going to be something!

Oculus Quest? That’s fantastic! How did that come about?

Well Mars is an incredible discovery, and we have focused on helping the public actually visualize the shipwreck. That has contributed to the huge interest. As a result, we got a call from the right person at Facebook who said that they wanted to recreate it as a virtual reality experience. 

When is the virtual dive on the Mars scheduled to launch?

We’re hoping some time this summer. We’re currently testing an alpha unit.

Mars here we come! How many actual dives have you and you team conducted on the shipwreck so far?

On average we have had 12-14 divers diving the wreck for two weeks for seven years now. On average one diver performs 8 dives during these two weeks.  Since 2011, we have only skipped one year. We did approximately 600 dives, all, I should note, without a single incident.

Diver swimming along the remains of the warship, the Mars.
Diver swimming along the remains of the Mars. Photo by Kirill Egorov.

Wow. That’s a great safety record! Congratulations! So what are your next steps for Mars?

One of the most important things right now is the ongoing scientific project to understand life aboard Mars. That’s our main focus this summer. To do that we hope to find more bodies, and armour, and things like boarding nets.  It’s a forensic study. We find some gruesome stuff. There should be 600+ bodies from Mars and 2-300 from the enemy ship as they were boarding the ship as it blew up. We have only found a few of them. Also, we haven’t figured out why the bodies aren’t spread out evenly throughout the shipwreck.

One of the most important things right now is the ongoing scientific project to understand life aboard Mars. That’s our main focus this summer. To do that we hope to find more bodies, and armour, and things like boarding nets.  It’s a forensic study.

One speculation is that the boat surrendered before it blew up and sailors were gathered in one area. We’re hoping to find clues. I mean aliens haven’t taken them! We should find bones and skeletons, but we haven’t seen them yet. We have seen bone parts, but not skeletons. It’s odd because their bodies were in armor, and there was no one to take the bodies away.  There is a very marginal bottom current. They should be there.

Fascinating! Wasn’t there another wreck involved as well?

Yes, we are also trying to find the Danish warship the Long Barque. Der Alte Bark in German, which Mars sank. We have a strong candidate that we found two years ago. It’s the right age but the wreck has not yet been confirmed. To my way of thinking, it’s one of the best-preserved shipwrecks I have ever seen. It sits upright on the bottom with two masts. We discovered the wreck on the northern tip of the Island of Oland. That’s part of our project this summer. 

We plan to build a 3D model of the wreck using ROVs. We’ll scan the bottom and the wreck.  We need something to identify her, like the inscriptions on the cannons on Mars. We’re still looking, but it’s pretty hard. The wreck has been underwater for five centuries. There were no ship bells back then with the ship’s name inscribed on them. 

Diver peaks into the side of the shipwreck of the Mars.
Diver looking into the side of the Mars during the 2018 project. Photo by Kirill Egorov.

Who do you have working with you this summer?

They’re all Mars veterans. We call them Martians! They are all GUE divers. All are very experienced. We’re working with the Swedish Defense College, and MARIS is the scientific leader. We also have Professor Jon Adams on the team from the University of Southampton, who worked on the Mary Rose shipwreck. We’ll have graduate students and five to ten scientists present. It’s a cool interaction for the divers.

What is a typical dive profile?

The depth is 250 ft/76m on average. The water temperature is close to 2 C/36F. It’s a little warmer above 100 ft/30 m, like 10-15 C/50-59F, but that’s still fairly cold. We’re running 40-50 minute bottom times and then we’re “in the freezer” for 120-180 minutes. We investigated using a diving bell for decompression, but it was too complicated. We’re using full body electric heating and electric gloves from Santi. They’re super good. We also only do one dive a day. We leave early and we’re back by 2:00 pm. By 4-5 pm we hand over all the data.

I think it was explorer and engineer Dr. Bill Stone who said, “the difference between exploration and adventure is data.”  

We’ve got the data brother! 

A group of researchers and divers on the 2018 Mars Project look at the data collected on a computer.
Lundgren and team working hard during the 2018 Mars Project. Photo courtesy of Ocean Discovery.

2019 Mars Team i.e. Martians: Johan Rönnby,  Ingvar Sjöblom, Ingemar Lundgren, Kirill Egorov, Jesper Kjøller, Marco Al,  Kees Beemster Leverenz, John Kendall ,Rachael Kendall, Oleksiy Sverdlov, Marcus New, Su Eun Kim, Kyungsoo Kim, Ellen Ingers, Joachim Ande,r Joakim Holmlund, Matilda Fredriksson, Rolf Warming, and Veronica Palm

Additional Resources:

GUE 2018 Annual Report

The Man From Mars, X-Ray Magazine, FEB 2014

Explore a 16th Century Underwater Battlefield, National Geographic Society

Archaeologists reveal new finds from legendary Swedish warship Science Nordic July 2018  

MONSTER SHIPWRECK: MYSTERY OF THE MARS

The 1564 Maritime Battlefield of “Mars”

National Geographic Society Supports Exploration of Famed Swedish Warship Mars the Magnificent

Cursed Warship Revealed With Treasure Onboard

450-Years Old cursed warship yields treasure trove of artifacts

Schiffswrack “Mars”: Kampf um die Ostsee

Svenskt örlogsfartyg från 1500-talet avslöjar historiska hemligheter

National Geographic Society stödjer utforskning av svenskt krigsfartyg

Researchers explore cursed 450-year-old shipwreck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea

The Explorers Club Flag # 215: Mars the Magnificent with Richard Lundgren

 The Explorer’s Club Flag #215 Report

Team to Complete Digital Reconstruction of Sunken Warship “Mars”

Related Stories:

EXPLORING THE BIKINI ATOLL’S USS SARATOGA

EXTENDING THE ENVELOPE REVISITED: CORRECTING THE RECORD OF THE 30 DEEPEST TECH SHIPWRECK DIVES


Michael Menduno is InDepth’s executive editor and, an award-winning reporter and technologist who has written about diving and diving technology for 30 years. He coined the term “technical diving.” His magazine “aquaCORPS: The Journal for Technical Diving”(1990-1996), helped usher tech diving into mainstream sports diving. He also produced the first Tek, EUROTek, and ASIATek conferences, and organized Rebreather Forums 1.0 and 2.0. Michael received the OZTEKMedia Excellence Award in 2011, the EUROTek Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 and the TEKDive USA Media Award in 2018.


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Fiona Sharp, You Will Be Sorely Missed

As you have likely heard, we’ve lost one of the irrepressible and much-loved characters in the tech and diving medicine community, 55-year old Australian anesthesiologist and diving physician Fiona Sharp.

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By Rosemary E Lunn
Header photo by Catherine Meehan. Fiona in Sodwana Bay.

Fiona at BonaireTek. Photo by Michael Menduno.

One of the colorful characters in the field of diving medicine died tragically in a rebreather diving accident on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Fifty-five-year-old, Australian diving physician and anesthetist Dr. Fiona Sharp, MBBS, FANZCA, was found unresponsive on a reef at 24 m/80 f. She had been solo diving on a rebreather, and she was discovered with her mouthpiece out. Fiona was medevaced but did not regain consciousness. The incident occurred on the last day of Fiona’s diving trip to Bonaire, located in the Leeward Antilles, Carribean Sea. It was the week after Bonaire Tek. Fiona enjoyed deep rebreather diving and was known to be a bit of a maverick.

“We are shattered.” Bruce and Lynn Partridge, Shearwater Research.

Fiona at AsiaTek. Photo by Michael Menduno.

The disturbing news of Fiona’s death rocketed around the world in a few hours. Many people from the diving medicine and technical diving communities expressed their dismay and distress at Fiona’s death. She was gregarious, fun-loving, irrepressible, and generous. Fiona was a friendly colleague and we had dived together a few times. I wrote a heartfelt tribute about Fiona’s bulldozer attitude to life and diving, and this was published by X-Ray Mag. It includes a myriad of voices from around the globe and amply illustrates just how well-loved she was by her colleagues and friends. 

“Fiona was an individual. She did what she wanted. She did what she loved. She was very much her own person, and drove us mad at times. Fiona was down to earth, had a massive heart, a huge personality, and was very dear to all of us. She will be greatly missed.

Dr. Catherine Meehan

Fiona Sharp was born in May, 1964, in Perth, Australia, and she was bright! She attended Mercedes College Perth, where she was “Dux” in her graduating year. [Dux: from Latin for ‘leader,’ the term that is now used in Australia and New Zealand to indicate the highest-ranking student in a specific achievement). 

Fiona in Sodwana Bay. Photo by Catherine Meehan.

After leaving high school, Fiona studied medicine at the University of Western Australia where she graduated in 1989 as a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS UWA). After serving an internship in Perth in 1989, followed by a year as a junior Resident in Sydney, Fiona moved to England where she gained her Diploma of Anaesthesia (DA) in 1992, whilst working as a Senior House Officer in Anaesthetics in Southend, Essex.

Fiona then returned to Australia and commenced specialist Anaesthetics training. In 2000, she flew once again to the UK where she spent five years practicing diving medicine at DDRC Healthcare (Diving Diseases and Research) in Plymouth. During this period, she was awarded a Fellow of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (FANZCA) Fellowship in 2004.

At the time of her death, Fiona Sharp was working at the Fiona Stanley Hyperbaric Medicine Unit (FSHHMU) in Perth, Western Australia. She had been in post since it opened in November 2014. Prior to that, she was employed at the HMU at Fremantle Hospital from 2007 to November 2014. (The department then relocated to the newly built department at FSH).

Fiona at an event with the Hyperbaric Technicians and Nurses Association. Photo courtesy of Catherine Meehan.

Whilst writing this, I spoke to Fiona’s family and asked: “why medicine?” They responded,

“If you are really smart at school, you are expected to be an architect, a lawyer, or a doctor. Medicine appealed to her; however, it was possible that she could have become a vet because the family did have a lot of animals.”

Fiona’s family

“She was nuts, about everything. But especially about diving.” 

Dirk Peterson

Fiona got into diving in her late teens after trying skydiving and scuba diving. Water prevailed and she learned to dive when she was 18 years old. She was a PADI Divemaster, cave certified and qualified to dive the Inspiration, Evolution, SF2, Drager Dolphin, Mark VI Poseidon, and JJ-CCR rebreathers. 

Fiona with Dr. Neal Pollock, Rosemary Lunn, and Dr. Richard “Harry” Harris at Rebreather Forum 3. Photo courtesy of Rosemary Lunn.

You cannot ever say that diving was her hobby. It was her all-encompassing great passion. Fiona recently told her older sister that she felt happiest when she was underwater. It was therefore natural that she would take an active interest in diving medicine, and she became a fixture at all the major diving medical or tech conferences. SPUMS, UHMS, EUBS, HTNA, as well as EUROTEK, OzTek, Rebreather Forum 3 and other diving industry events. These helped keep her current and educated in this niche sector. 

Fiona loved the diving, diving medicine, and the camaraderie around the bar. She was regularly first up and last to bed. Most often, Fiona could be heard well before she was seen on land and underwater!! She was well-loved by her colleagues at these events and, as many have said, the SPUMS Conference won’t be the same without her. I think she attended at least 17.” 

Dr. Neil Banham, Fiona Stanley Hospital

Fiona’s first South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society (SPUMS) Conference was at Layang, Layang island, in Malaysia in 1999,  a venue well suited to her type of diving because it was deep. It was at a later SPUMS, in 2008, that Fiona’s diving would change. Dr. Catherine Meehan takes up the story. 

I met Fiona at a SPUMS meeting about 20 years ago. In 2008, I chartered the ‘Golden Dawn’ liveaboard. Ten of us flew into Alotau in Papua. New Guinea. and we sailed and dived our way across to Kimbe Bay, West New Britain, to join the SPUMS annual scientific conference. There was a rebreather on board and Fiona had a guided rebreather dive. She enjoyed it so much that she dived with it for the rest of the week. I believe this was one of her earliest experiences rebreather diving, and I think that she embarked on her passion for diving rebreathers shortly afterward.

Catherine and Fiona would regularly dive together, at least two or three times a year, all over the world.

We did a lot of conferences and diving together. We were most recently in South Africa diving Sodwana Bay. She was dressed in her vibrant orange drysuit so it was easy to see where she was, doing her own thing. It was tough cold water diving, but she was very hardy and didn’t miss a dive, even when her suit leaked. It is a good lasting memory of her.”

It was like she had been shot out of a cannon when she entered a room.

Joanna Mikutowicz, DiveTech


Fiona Sharp never did anything by halves, and this is amply demonstrated by a classic Fiona story that her older sister Donna regaled to me.

Many years ago Fiona rang me up and said, ‘I have got two tickets to the rugby game on Friday night, do you want to come with me?’ I thought, ‘Why not?’ One of our kids plays rugby at school. I rocked up at the game and she said to me, ‘Here is your ticket. Don’t worry about paying. And by the way, these tickets are not just for tonight’s game. They are season tickets’.”

She goes on: 

“We ended up supporting the Western Force, a professional Perth-based rugby team, for the next twelve years and watched them play Super Rugby against New Zealand and South Africa. What I found ironic was that I went to nearly every game. I think Fiona missed more games than any of us because she was away diving so much.

Fiona Sharp drew no quarters when it came to life and diving. I only met her a few times, but she left an aircraft carrier shipwreck-sized impression on my psyche and we remained in contact.”

Laura James, Environmental Campaigner, Underwater Cinematographer

Many divers have been generous with their Fiona stories. Todd and Tiffany Winn of Silent O Solutions reached out to me with another classic Fiona tale and said I could share it. When Fiona decided you would be friends, the recipient really didn’t stand a chance. 

Fiona’s reputation as ‘difficult’ preceded her, and our first encounter with her was memorable, to say the least. It was in San Diego for an in-water recompression symposium and training event in 2014. She exceeded my expectations. I believe she only told me I was completely mistaken two or three times. I conceded two of three and agreed to disagree on the third. She had an uncanny ability to defuse my ire with a wry smirk. As she had already decided we’d be friends, I had little say in the matter.

Tiffany Winn
Fiona before a dive in Bonaire. Photo by Michael Menduno.

Tiff liked Fiona immediately and loved her unflinching honesty and authenticity. Fiona threatened to visit us on Maui on one of her transits across the globe, but unlike nearly everyone else she called and texted for a month straight, ironing out the details, and sure enough, one day, showed up. We loaded up our little boat for its maiden voyage, and Tiff and Fifi had a girl’s day rebreathering all by themselves. We had a beautiful day and a fabulous sunset. We will remember her fondly and often, and will miss her dearly.”

Todd Winn

It is only right that I leave the last words to her family. I was told that Fiona had wanted to climb Mount Everest, but she suffered so badly with altitude sickness, that she just about made it to base camp and no further. Fiona was always willing to take a risk, and push herself. Apparently she competed in triathlons in her early 20’s, and she liked challenges. Everyone who came into contact with her soon found out she had a very dry sense of humor.

Fiona didn’t like cheap champagne or wine. It had to be good quality and lots of it, and she always brought home two bottles of whiskey from every trip for her father.

Donna Sharp

Fiona was close to her family. She is survived by her mother, three sisters, a brother, and 18 cousins. She was an “oh so very proud” aunt to 13 nieces and nephews. Typically big-hearted and kind, Fiona had planned to take a nephew to Antarctica this November. You mad as a box of frogs lady, you will be missed. 

The author is very grateful for the assistance of the Sharp family and Dr. Neil Banham, Director of Hyperbaric Medicine at Fiona Stanley Hospital in writing this tribute. 


Dive industry fixer, Rosemary E Lunn (“Roz”) is the Business Development Director at The Underwater Marketing Company. This British firm specializes in providing marketing, communications, social media and event management for the “tecreational” and technical diving industry. Rosemary is a PADI IDC Staff Instructor, BSAC Advanced Instructor, Trimix, and CCR diver. Before moving into the public relations field, she worked as a professional recreational instructor, safety diver, and underwater model underwater and appeared on the History Channel and National Geographic documentaries. She established TEKDiveUSA and organized Rebreather Forum 3 on behalf of AAUS, DAN, and PADI. In 2008, Rosemary co-founded EUROTEK, the European advanced and technical diving biennial conference. She is a respected and prolific diving author, an SSI Platinum Diver, an Associate Member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame, and sits on the SITA Board (Scuba Industry Trade Association).

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