Europe

Hope in Germany deepest cave rescue near Berchtesgaden

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Media captionThe BBC's Mariko Oi says it could be days before the trapped man sees daylight

A man trapped in Germany's deepest cave is in a better condition than expected, the mountain rescue service says.

The 52-year-old, named by local media as Johann Westhauser, was injured in a rock fall at the 1,000m-deep (3,280ft) Riesending cave in south Germany.

Rescuers have managed to reach and speak to Mr Westhauser, who is able to stand. They had previously feared he was partially paralysed.

Rescue officers hope to raise him to the surface over the next few days.

A team of Swiss rescue experts and an Austrian doctor are trying to assist Mr Westhauser.

However, rescue conditions will be very difficult - some of the cave passages plunge down for 300m and many parts of the cave are extremely narrow.

'Like the Eiger'

It took one of the man's companions up to 12 hours to return to the surface to raise the alarm.

"Forget everything that you have ever heard about rescue operations in the mountains - we can't get any equipment in at all to reach the injured man," cave rescuer Norbert Rosenberger told German media.

The rescue operation was "like [climbing] the north face of the Eiger [mountain] - without boots or cables", he said.


Bavaria's Riesending caves

Image copyright AP
  • Deepest and longest cave system in Germany - 19,2km long and 1,148m deep
  • Narrow tunnels reached only by abseiling down 300m
  • Lies on Austrian border, north of Berchtesgaden
  • Injured researcher reportedly helped discover caves in 1995
  • Mapping of cave system began in 2002

Communications are difficult because of the depth of the cave.

Reports say rescuers have managed to lay down a telephone line for about 400m of the passages.

'Laborious rescue'

The 52-year-old was exploring in the Alps near Berchtesgaden on the border between Germany and Austria, the BBC's Stephen Evans in Berlin reports.

The rescuers have set up five medical treatment points in the maze of caves, so that the man can be rested and cared for as he is laboriously raised to the surface over four or five days, our correspondent adds.

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Media captionStefan Schneider, of the Bavarian mountain rescue service, explains the challenges

Mr Westhauser, who was with two companions on a trip in the Untersberg mountain range, suffered injuries to his head and torso in the rock fall in the early hours of Sunday.

Although he was wearing headgear, he was not protected from the weight of the rock.

While one of his companions went to seek help, the other stayed with him.

He was one of the researchers who discovered the cave a few years ago, German media report.

Image copyright AP
Image caption With narrow passages and vertical shafts, rescue efforts will be extremely challenging

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