German caver rescued after 11-day ordeal

Thursday 19 June 2014 23.37
German rescuers have brought to safety an injured caver
German rescuers have brought to safety an injured caver

German rescuers have brought to safety an injured caver, ending his 11-day ordeal and a massive recovery operation deep below the Bavarian Alps.

"The victim has been brought to the surface and is receiving emergency medical care," said a mountain rescue official after the team reached the mouth of the cave, where a helicopter was waiting.

Explorer Johann Westhauser, 52, suffered serious head injuries in the accident about 1,000 metres below ground in the Riesending cave complex, Germany's longest and deepest.

Since then a multi-national team of hundreds of emergency personnel battled around the clock in a complex and costly operation to bring him to the surface.

Rescuers placed Mr Westhauser on a fibreglass stretcher and negotiated a treacherous and labyrinth-like network of tunnels and chambers, underground lakes and ice-cold waterfalls.

The rescue operation involved rest periods in five bivouac stops, followed by a major final hoist up a 180-metre vertical shaft near the entrance to the cave, officials said.

The rescue effort, high in the mountains near the Austrian border, has involved professional cavers, medical personnel and helicopter crews, from Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Croatia.

Veteran caver Mr Westhauser was exploring the cave system with two others when he suffered head and chest injuries in the rock fall on June 8.

One of his companions made the more than ten-hour trip back to the surface to raise the alarm while the other stayed behind.

The Riesending cave, north of the city of Berchtesgaden, was only discovered in the mid-1990s and was not explored and mapped until 2002.

It is more than 19km long and up to 1,150m deep.