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Željava Airbase – An expedition to the top secret Yugoslav underground military facility (part 2)

Željava Airbase – An expedition to the top secret Yugoslav underground military facility (part 2)

Read about the second part (part 1) of my adventure in Željava airbase. I spent 5 hours in the underground of the airbase. I explored almost every meter of the base, making a few fascinating discoveries.

I entered Željava underground at 11 30 leaving the beautiful sunny day behind. I slowly moved through the tunnel. The size of the tunnel was enormous. My torch was far from being able to light up the whole space between the walls. Dark walls were swallowing my light that I was hardly able to see verges of the tunnel. This made me walk close to one of the walls, to avoid feeling of walking in the empty space. The beginning of the tunnel was very clean. Apparently the tunnel was cleaned from the rubble from the destruction by bulldozers, leaving a few big piles of rubber here and there.

After few minutes, I came to the point where the tunnel turned left and last bits of the daylight disappeared, leaving me in a complete darkness. I discovered remains of the gigantic door which would be probably used to hermetically seal the base during the attack. The steel door was gone, but what left was a massive steel-concrete hat which used to hold the door. It was heavily damaged. The hundreds of thick twisted rebars stack out from the door.  It was reminder of the power of charges which was set to destroy the base. The huge pieces of concrete were hanging on the twisted rebars. I always felt chills when I moved beneath the hanging concrete, imagining it will fall on my head. Sometimes I hate my imagination.

The remain of the massive door in Zeljava Airbase.

In some parts, the floor was full of small holes, approximately half meter deep. It was probably remaining of electric installation or canalisation. Plus, there were a lot of steel waste lying around.  Its sharp corners could easily cut through the shoes, causing the injury. It was really important to watch my step, by falling to the hole I could easily broke my leg. Such an accident would be serious trouble. There was no one to help me, no one would hear my calling for help, and I could not call help by phone either. If you wish to follow my steps, it is better that you do it in the group.

I left the main tunnel to explore smaller rooms through the side tunnels. The rooms I entered were just full of rubble, some were blocked. I returned to the main tunnel and slowly moved forward, systematically exploring every side tunnel I discovered. The result was always the same, the side tunnel ending in the empty room full of steel and concrete rubble covered by black dust. It seems that unfortunately, all the equipment has been gone.

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The atmosphere of the base was haunting. The darkness was swallowing all the space around me. It was getting colder and colder with every meter I took deeper inside of the base. Air was really humid and full of the grey dust slowly flowing through the tunnels. The amount of dust in the air was just insane. By looking forward, I was able to see billions of small bright dust grains flying towards my headlight. The dust in the base is a remain of the fire. It contains carcinogenic PCB spiced up with radioactive Americium. This makes the Željava underground not really good environment for your lungs. I was hoping my respiration mask was not made in China.

An amount of the dust in Zeljava airbase is insane.

The humidity in the air make the water condenses on top of the tunnel. Sometimes when water drops down it creates mysterious sounds. Walking through the tunnels creates an echo which was following my steps. The mix of the echo of my steps and dropping water created haunting sounds which made me stop with a feeling I am not alone. After some time I realized that this place is just fooling my senses and I am there alone, completely abandoned in the never-ending darkness.

My plan was to continue through the tunnel until I would reach the Entrance number 2. With confidence I continued forward. I came to the big crossroad of the main tunnels. One tunnel was going more inside of the base, but I turned left to find an exit. After more than hour in darkness I could finally see the light. I took quick brunch and enjoyed fresh air. I already felt a bit dizzy from the bad air. I was slightly disappointed that I still did not find anything interesting inside. However, walking in the dark tunnels of the super-secret military facility was exciting experience itself.

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After brunch, I went back to explore another part of the base until the Entrance 3. On the big crossroad I first walked straight until end of the big tunnel. At the end of the tunnel I found remains of the toilets. Again everything badly destroyed with a lot of rubble inside. I returned back to the crossroad and took the way deeper to the base. In some moments, the cold became unbearable. High humidity made it even worse. Getting lost or staying here too long could lead to dead from hipotermia.

Walking through the main tunnel, I spotted something really unexpected. In the left wall of the tunnel, there was a small shrine with a lot of candles.  It seemed that some previous explorer lost his life in this dark place. And probably his friends come down from time to time to light up candles for him…it sounds awkward. But here it is: A shrine of the fallen explorer. I hoped to not follow his destiny.

A shrine of the fallen explorer set into the wall.

I went to explore the complex of small rooms. And finally I found something which survived the apocalypse of this place. I found something which looked as electric generator. Exciting, I was in the electric engine room. This place was the heart of the base. If the base was under the attack, the generator would be able to supply whole base. Around the generator, there were huge rounded canisters for kerosene probably to fuel the generator. In another room, there were the big hook and the strange shaped door with three rounded windows.

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I went out from the engine room, took the way to Entrance 3. After some time I came to end of the tunnel. However, there was just a huge concrete wall with no other way to exit. Surprise! This way seemed to be closed or my map was wrong. Thus I needed to skip my planned break and go to explore last part of the base. I got a bit anxious about being able to find a way out.

I returned back to the crossroad and turned left to the last unexplored tunnel. The tunnel was really long. Many minutes passed and I still haven’t got to any point of my map. I was looking for the side tunnel which was supposed to lead to another complex of rooms. I was not able to find it. The long tunnel continued to never ending darkness with no sign of ending. I started to be afraid that my map is wrong and I got lost.

After some time, I spotted something interesting in the distance. Some object was reflecting my headlight. I came closer and I found out that it was a small truck in not very good conditions. The explosion had blown up whole engine area leaving the car heavily burned. Tires had melted because of the huge heat. Still it was astonishing urbex artefact reminding the difficult history of this place.

A small wreck of the truck in Zeljava airbase.

I passed by the wreck and continued curious where this tunnel will finish. After some time I spotted a light, the end of the tunnel. Finally! I was excited and confused in the same time because I was not sure which exit I found. The last part of the tunnel was heavily damaged. There were a lot of concrete on the floor with some dangerously hanging from the ceiling. I slowly crawl beneath hanging concrete heading to the exit.

I stopped at the end of the tunnel. I looked to the map and I realized something fascinating. I crossed the border to Bosnia! This was the last entrance which is from the Bosnia side. Technically I just crossed border between Bosnia and Croatia…illegally. I decided to not go further because I was sure that outside it can be polluted by the land mines. I planned to bring both my legs home. Plus if the border police stopped me I could be in serious trouble.

There was only one place I haven’t explored yet, the complex of rooms which on the map looks like a star. I went back through the tunnel, crawling near the left wall, to not miss any side tunnel leading somewhere. Luckily, after some time I found the entrance to the star complex.

I arrived to the middle of the star, when I looked up I immediately froze for few seconds. The whole sealing looked it can collapse in any moment and I haven’t felt particularly good about it. Everything seemed to be hold just by two really crumbled pillars. I breathed really slowly to make less impact on the air circulation.

A fragile sealing looks like it can collapse in any moment.

After I realized that this sealing is here in this condition for more than 20 years, I started feeling a bit better. I slowly moved to the first elongated room. The room was full of rubble with the broken furniture. In the second room I found the table and the chair. It seemed as a room for higher command. But the luxury was gone. I am sure that during the airbase military life, it was a nice cosy room.

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Returning to the place with broken sealing made me more anxious about the possibility of land shift which could end my life. At that moment I decided that last two unexplored rooms are not worth of the risk and I turned back to the way to exit.

I walked really fast to the Entrance 2 singing on the way to banish loneliness of this place. I was so happy when I spotted the sunshine. Outside it was still really beautiful day. I walked on the runway lined with the warnings about landmines. I checked the time, it was after 16 00. Unbelievable, I spent inside almost 5 hours. I decided that it is time to go home.

An abandoned runway in Zeljava airbase. What a beautiful day was waiting for me outside 🙂

After my adrenaline levels dropped, I realized that my legs are completely destroyed. The shoes, I was not wearing for a long time, created huge blisters on both of my feet. Every meter was hurting like hell. I felt like every centimetre of my feet is covered by blisters, some of them got punctured which made them even more painful. The way back to Licko Petrovo Selo was extremely painful. After I finally made it, I was not able to continue forward, so I rather decided to hitchhike.

After some time a van stopped to me and surprisingly it was another Serb! Plus he served in Zeljava base during his military service. What a coincidence! We had nice chat about the history of this area. He was super nice and dropped me close to the hostel. Both Serbian drivers, who I met this day, left an impression that Serbians are really nice people.

In the hostel, people were already expecting me. The receptionist Milica was really happy that I came alive, in one peace. She gifted me with the warm smile when we met on the stairs. I chatted with few guests at the terrace, excitingly speaking about my adventure in Željava. I went to bed early, super tired but with the huge feeling of accomplishment. I was wondering what adventures the next days will bring.