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There are moments in life that we call pivotal. Sometimes they are private events, sometimes professional, and sometimes just situations that elevate us high up so that we can look down on who we are and what we do from a distance. So that we can reflect.

Sometimes these situations are dangerous and risky because then we brush against the boundaries between here and now and what comes after us. Do you know all those stories about a tunnel with a light at the end, in the direction we shouldn’t go? What you’ll read below is my personal “reflection” that arose in my mind as a result of a tragic accident for me that occurred on March 9, 2024, in one of the reserves in Gdańsk. But let’s start from the beginning… brew some coffee, because the end of this story is only partially happy.

A day like any other

I have been involved in wildlife photography for many years. With breaks, I admit. Recently, however, I have returned very intensively to photographing wild birds. An inseparable element of this passion is solitude and being in areas where often only those involved in nature conservation or passionate photographers have access. That was the case here.

I have all the required permits for photographing and being outside designated trails in the territory of 3 Pomeranian bird reserves issued by authorized environmental protection authorities in Poland. As they say, I like to be “legit” and I don’t want to explain to my photography buddies about trespassing in closed areas, often breeding grounds. As you probably suspect, these areas are usually very difficult to access: marshes, canals, waterways, swamps, etc…

This Saturday morning, or rather night, I went to the reserve to photograph cranes, which had already begun their courtship rituals. The sunrise at 6:15 gave me a chance to reach the hideout 1-1.5 hours before sunrise. Cranes spend the night in shallow water, and the surrounding reed beds and canals are the perfect refuge from predators and people. Besides, the area is closed to tourists and people. Above all, however, it is very technically demanding. To reach the hideout, I have to walk through the reed beds, which at this time of year and at this water level are simply marshland. Without waders, in which I often sink waist-deep, I won’t get there.

It’s 4:30 in the morning. From the parked car to the hideout, I have about 45 minutes’ walk through fields, then through marshland and reed beds. It’s minus 2 degrees Celsius. March nights are perfect for capturing great photos of cranes’ breath steaming before they fly off to feed after sunrise. I’m dressed in a very thick winter jacket, triple-layered trousers. On top of all that, I put on waders. I know that in the hide, I’ll be sitting waist-deep in water for several hours. Backpack with equipment, tripod, chair (tripod), and I’m going…

I arrive at the designated time. It’s still dark. The approach to the hideout is obscured by reeds, so 20 meters away from me, I hear the magnificent trumpeting of cranes that don’t see me slipping into the hideout. I set up my equipment. Water up to my knees. The chair sinks in even further, so the seat is at the level of the water’s surface. I sit down. I start taking photos. The cranes are 10 meters away from me. I can almost feel their breath. Sunrise is approaching. Everything is as I dreamed it would be. Until…

The sun is almost up. The cranes start flying off to feed in nearby fields. It’s getting empty. Grey. I gather my things. I pack up – with my Nikon Z8 camera attached to an 800mm lens in the backpack, which fits everything without detaching the body. I adjust the reeds in the hideout. I start back. However, I choose a different path. Along the canal.

I’m walking along the canal. It’s getting brighter, but heavy clouds still hang overhead. The temperature is still a few degrees below zero. The canal is about 2.5-3 meters wide. I know it well. A kingfisher lives here. I photographed it many times. The water level is very high. I’ve never seen such a flooded section here before. I have all my equipment on me. From the grayness of the water’s surface emerges a trunk washed down by someone or carried away by the current from the village. I approach the edge of the canal and completely unintentionally consider the possibility of crossing to the other side on the trunk. Maybe I would find some cool spots there for better photos, for example, the kingfisher, whose calls I heard while going to the hideout. I didn’t plan this. I was heading back to the car. However, I did something that in a few seconds became my “reflection” on life. A life that I almost lost in the next hour…

I took a step forward and rested my leading leg on the trunk. Completely unaware, all the weight of my body was suddenly on the trunk. It’s hard to estimate in seconds or milliseconds, but immediately after hearing a dull crack, I found myself in the water up to my neck. The trunk collapsed under my weight. I immediately submerged in the water, which was at a temperature of 3-4 degrees.

The water completely engulfed me. Immediately, it found its way into my boots up to chest level… I don’t need to explain to anyone who wears boots how dangerous it is to have them filled with water. Within seconds, my normal weight doubled. The moment I fell into the water, I let go of the tripod I was carrying on my shoulder to grab onto anything that would keep me afloat. Despite my 182 cm height, I couldn’t touch the ground. I submerged. I remained with my back to the shore the whole time, as the backpack – now completely submerged – prevented me from turning around and dragged me further under the surface. I desperately grasped at the reeds behind me, but my weight uprooted them. I was sinking!

Frantically, I searched with my legs for the trunk to find any support. To give my hands a rest, which had nothing left to grab and were clawing at the earth from the shore. Each pant leg of my boots already held about 20 liters of water, but miraculously I managed to rest my foot on the trunk. Unfortunately, under my weight, the trunk slipped from the opposite bank and began to drift with the current. Again, I submerged in the water. The adrenaline, still pumping through my veins, kept my body temperature up.

I was weakening. I had to stop thrashing for a moment to gather my thoughts

I talk to myself.
First, take off the backpack. Then, maybe try to slide off the straps of the boots and somehow get rid of the weight of water from the chest, but all the time I have to hold onto the shore and pull out more reeds because the current (although weak) was pulling me towards the center. And this persistently idiotic thought, when you’re fighting for your life – how the hell am I drowning so much gear in this backpack!

I manage to free my hand from the backpack strap. I can’t let go of both reeds because I’ll drift away and nothing will save me. I’ll sink to the bottom, no amount of arm strength will pull the weight of me and the water in the boots. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the tripod with the gimbal head, which had been resting on the stump until now, submerging and disappearing. After removing one backpack strap, I finally manage to turn towards the shore. I lay my arms on the mud, but still have no ground under my feet. The shore is imperceptible because there’s no normal sand here, the water washes away the shore and undermines the reed bed. I see that the backpack is slowly floating on the water due to buoyancy but gradually sinking, stopping about 2 meters away from me, hooked on the reeds floating on the water.

It’s been maybe 15-20 minutes since the fall… I don’t know how long exactly. I don’t have the strength to pull myself up onto the shore because I have nothing to push against. My arms aren’t able (there are no bushes, trees) to pull this weight. I’m hanging with my chin in the water. I catch my breath. I begin to feel cold, and my feet are stiffening.

And this is the moment that I’ve seen so many times in movies. Resigned to the inevitable, a person before death screams, rages, calls out to loved ones. But it’s not like that at all… it’s a very quiet admission that this might be the end. There are no screams. There’s not even panic. The cold takes its toll. The first signs of hypothermia (I’ve been in the water for a good 30 minutes now) make every movement and subsequent pull an expenditure of energy, after which I gather my thoughts for another 5 minutes.

Think! Damn it, think! You won’t drown in a nature reserve because of your own stupidity

The backpack! Since it’s filled with so much water and already weighed around 15 kg with the gear, it could be an anchor, a shoreline one. I start lowering myself towards the backpack along the edge. I grab it with one hand, trying to push it onto the shore. However, it’s practically impossible to haul 20 kg onto the shore without any foothold and while holding onto the edge with the other hand.

I lost my glasses. And that sudden idiotic thought popping up like an electrical impulse out of nowhere: I lost my glasses in the reserve last year too – how much more can one take! Why do such thoughts occur to a person in such a situation?

Okay. The backpack is the only hope. I brace myself and find a strong cluster of reeds. With one hand, I grab them, barely feeling anything, and with the other hand, I submerge it under the backpack and try to push it out by moving my legs violently in the water. The reeds snap. Second attempt. The backpack is too heavy. Third attempt and… the backpack gently resurfaces, and I slide it onto the shore. It’s good. Ten more tries, and the backpack lands on the shore. The folding chair attached to the side pocket with a strap and legs is easy to grab with my hand. I have something to pull with!

I slide the backpack as far as possible onto the shore. I finally unhook the straps of my waders, but anyone who has never tried to take off waterlogged boots while neck-deep in water doesn’t know that it’s impossible :) Especially at minus 2 degrees with no feeling in the feet. I give up. I don’t want to waste any more energy.

Will the backpack be enough to pull about 150 kg on it, because that’s how much I weigh with water in my boots and a soaked winter jacket? I grab the chair legs with my hand and try to pull myself up with worm-like movements. It’s been 40-50 minutes in the water. Poor effect of my efforts. The backpack slips into the water, I have to control the force of pulling, and my teeth start playing a march. Adrenaline is no longer enough. The body sinks into the cold. The brain slowly turns off the heating. I feel somehow blissful. I consider letting go of the backpack. I know I’ll float away and disappear.

Moment! A mobile-phone! Where’s my phone… on my chest in the polar pocket, the third layer. I reach under the water, pull it out. Dark screen, but shaking it wakes it up. Spark. Okay, if I call 112 now and they react quickly, it’ll take about 2 hours to get here. Damn, what a shame! The brain picks up on such details. Strange thoughts. I’ll call Darek, he lives in Gdynia, he’s a photographer too and knows the area. He’ll help. But it will take him 1.5-2 hours to get here. I won’t endure that long in this water.

I go back to the backpack. More attempts to lift my leg sideways to catch the edge with my boot. No chance. Too heavy. How deep is the bottom? How deep can a channel like this be?! I probe. I submerge myself, holding onto the reeds, the tips of my fingers barely feel the bottom when I’m up to my forehead in the water. It’s impossible to bounce off. Backpack. That’s the only option. So again… I pull myself up and manage to slide a few centimeters further onto the bank. Again. And again. After each pull, I have to wait 5 minutes because I have no strength left. None. I’m damn cold, my teeth are chattering, and I’m shaking all over. I can’t feel anything from my feet to my thighs anymore. Another attempt. I’m 10 cm higher on the bank now. Now I have to move my knee or foot over the water. I must.

Got it!
My knee, barely extended from the water, rest against the bank. I position my body sideways to the shore. Hopefully, the backpack won’t slip off because it’s holding all my weight. It’s good. Just 2-3 more pulls, and I can feel my hips approaching the tipping point as I brace them against the reed bed.

I need to rest. Submerged on my right side in the canal, with one leg on the bank, I cling tightly to the tripod attached to the backpack. I know I won’t drown! I need to rest. I rest my head on the mud and feel dirty water flowing into my numb mouth. I don’t care. I make further movements with intervals of 5-7 minutes between them, and finally, my hips, my center of gravity, are on the bank.

I’m falling down. Literally and metaphorically.

I came to after a few minutes, maybe 30 seconds. I feel water from my boots pouring onto my back. I’m alive. I’m lying down. Shaking. Breathing shallowly. I need to take off my boots. I try to stand up. I fall because I have no feeling in my legs. I struggle with the boots for a good 15 minutes, finally managing to take them off. I pour out the water. I sit and shake. Another break to gather strength just to sit up.


With coarse hands, I open the backpack and take out the camera battery. It was turned off. My hands are shaking so much that I have to hold one hand with the other. It’s bad. I can’t pinpoint it specifically, but I know that all the gear is dead. Even if water didn’t flood the entire backpack, when I opened it, there was no water in it, the slim chances of salvation. I bought all gears barely 2 months ago. Everything was new. I was excited about it. The 800mm lens gave me a lot of joy. The tripod I bought from a friend serves as a submarine, and the gimbal head as an anchor. Besides that, accessories, batteries, chargers, power banks… everything!

My thoughts race. The gear becomes irrelevant. The priority now is reaching the car – a 45-minute trek through the reeds and meadows. I can’t go barefoot. It’s not feasible. I have to put on my boots. But how? I don’t have the strength to stand up. I lie down. I have a thermos in the backpack! I drink tea. It doesn’t help much. I drift away and my thoughts scatter. The energy expenditure is simply killing me. It’s 0 degrees Celsius. I need to dress up. I put on my waders lying down. I cry while doing it, because pulling on the boot feels like climbing Mount Everest. But I managed. I need to rest again. Finally, I get up. My legs tremble, as if after a good workout at the gym. Backpack on my back. I walk. Actually, I drag myself. I reach the car after 50 minutes.

Car keys

10 meters from the car – a panicked thought! Where are the keys!? I had them in the lower pocket of my jacket, securely closed with Velcro. If they didn’t fall out, will they work? They work.

The car.
I strip down almost to nothing. Heating on full blast, and I try to move as quickly as possible, but I can’t. My legs aren’t working. The adrenaline has worn off. My body wants to rest and refuses to cooperate. My feet are numb. I push my knee with my hand to press the gas pedal. I move. Slowly, the temperature takes its toll. After an hour, I’m home. I lie under the shower for over an hour. I don’t think about anything. Anything. I’m a photographer. For a good photo, I would do a lot. I’ve done various foolish things for a good shot. However, no photo is worth your life. Never!


The situation occurred a few days ago. I decided to describe it only today. Why? There are two reasons. One is quite mundane, and I’m a bit embarrassed about it, while the other is more significant.
Let’s start with the second reason. Let this post serve as a warning to everyone. I’m almost 50 years old. I’m an athlete who has practiced many disciplines in life, which helps me physically. I’m a sailor with licenses. I’m a swimmer with a swimming card. I’m not afraid of water. I’m a former scout. I’m a former hunter. I’m physically strong and mentally resilient. I’ve been in various dangerous situations in life. And one might think that I have the knowledge, experience, and preparation for safely being alone in difficult conditions. However, on that day, March 9, I made EVERY possible mistake!

  • Never enter an unknown obstacle with full gear and burden!
  • All I needed to do was take off my backpack!
  • All I needed to do was set up the tripod and examine that log.
  • Always inform someone where you are… use Air Tags, positions, etc.
  • Maintain composure if possible and don’t panic. It doesn’t help.
  • If you have a tripod with you, don’t carry it on your shoulder, attach it to your backpack – it might come in handy! You need to have free hands in a threatening situation.

The second reason is embarrassing for me, but sometimes in life, you have to swallow a bitter pill. As a result of my own stupidity, I lost the photographic legacy of my life. The equipment sent to the service turned out to be beyond repair. The Nikon Z8, Nikkor Z 800mm f/6.3, Nikkor Z 40mm f/2 were disassembled, but the damages are irreparable. Water between the sensor and the filter, a dead motherboard, flooded EVF – that’s the end for the camera. The theoretically waterproof Nikkor 800mm PF, after encountering water at a temperature of 3-4 degrees and likely total immersion in the backpack, fogged up between non-disassemblable lens groups, and the electronics are dead. The rear block responsible for stabilization and autofocus isn’t even considered repairable. The carbon tripod with a gimbal head probes the canal, and maybe in the summer, I’ll go there with rakes :)

The cost of the lost equipment totals around 45,000 PLN (11,000 usd). I know very well that asking for support in this situation is embarrassing because it’s my fault, not yours, but I have to swallow this bitter pill because this equipment was the culmination of my entire photographic life. Each subsequent upgrade to new equipment was a part of my development as a photographer. Now there’s nothing left.

I’ve started a fundraiser on – this is a Polish most popular crowdfunding platform that allows people to raise money for various purposes by sharing a link to an online fundraiser.
If any of you would like to help me partially rebuild my equipment (I don’t expect the full value of the lost gear!), I will be forever grateful. I can only repay you with my writing on photography on my blog (which I’ve been doing since 2008) or with photos. That’s all I have left. If you feel inclined and your profiles generate some reach, and you’d like to share the link to this post and the fundraiser – I sincerely thank you in advance (link:!

Take care of yourselves. Photos are important, but you are the most important!

Below are the last photos I took from my hideout with my gear just a few minutes before the incident. Perhaps these are my last bird photos for a long time. I even recorded a short video as a farewell, but I don’t know how to edit it because I’m not familiar with video editing :)

Below is a link to my fundraising campaign, where I am collecting funds to at least partially rebuild my equipment base. Thank you!

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