Riesending rescue: German caver Johann Westhauser surfaces
- 19 June 2014
- From the section Europe
An injured German caver trapped 1,000m (3,300ft) underground for 12 days has been brought to the surface after a painstaking rescue operation.
Johann Westhauser, 52, is reported to be conscious but the extent of his head and chest injuries is still unclear.
Two doctors accompanied him to the surface and after initial checks he was airlifted to hospital.
He was badly hurt in a rockfall on 8 June while exploring Germany's deepest cave, near the Austrian border.
A medical team and helicopters were waiting as he left the cave at 11:44 local time (09:44 GMT).
Mountain rescue service chief Klemens Reindl, who supervised the operation, said 728 people from five countries had taken part.
"It was one of the most difficult rescue operations in the history of the mountain rescue service," he said.
"The international character of the mission was remarkable."
The precarious rescue was beset with difficulties because of the deep shafts and narrow passages in the cave.
It involved rest periods in five bivouac stops, followed by a major final hoist up a 180m (600ft) vertical shaft near the entrance to the cave.
A motorised winch could not be used because of the potential risks to Mr Westhauser, and he had to be hauled up manually on a fibreglass stretcher.
The injured man was one of the explorers who in 1995 originally discovered the cave, which they named Riesending ("Giant thing") because of its depth and size.
He had been on a trip during the Whitsun holiday when he suffered severe head and chest injuries at least 1,000m underground.
Mr Westhauser works at the Institute for Applied Physics at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, but it is not known if he went into the complex (as he had done many times before) as part of his research or as a hobby.
There are sound scientific reasons to explore caves but there are cavers, too, who do it for the thrill of going where no human may have trod before.
Whatever Johann Westhauser's motive was, it has turned out to be an expensive exercise, both in terms of money but also in terms of the sweat and risk expended by the people who have pulled him out.