Germany cave: Johann Westhauser 'near surface'

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Media captionFootage on Monday showed crews involved in the rescue operation

A marathon bid to rescue an injured man from Germany's deepest cave is about to enter its final stretch, officials say.

A team bringing Johann Westhauser to the surface has reached an area near the final base station and will start moving him after a few hours' rest.

Mr Westhauser, 52, was badly hurt in a rockfall on 8 June in the 1,000m-deep (3,280ft) Riesending cave.

For days, the rescuers have carried him through the cave's narrow passages and vertical shafts.

A rescue team of 15 cave specialists and two doctors with Mr Westhauser reached a spot some 400m from the surface on Wednesday morning and were due to pause before continuing their journey.

Fire service officials said the team would rest for about eight hours before negotiating the final phase of the rescue in the cave system close to the Austrian border near Berchtesgaden in the German Alps:

  • First they will have to deal with a vertical stretch while being buffeted by water
  • Then there will be a wider shaft of some 180m in which ropes and pulleys will be used
  • Finally there will be a narrower shaft before they reach the surface
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Image caption The team was going to wait for some hours before starting the final stretch of the operation

Dozens of rescuers are taking part in the cave operation, from Italy, Austria and Switzerland. Medical checks are being carried out to ensure the injured man is fit for the last part of his long journey. He is described as in a stable condition and able to make hand signs to his rescuers, medical officials say.

Much of the precarious operation has involved rescuers pulling him on a stretcher inch by inch through tight passages.

It took doctors four days to reach Mr Westhauser after he was hit on the head and chest during a weekend holiday trip with two other cave explorers.

One of the explorers returned to the surface to raise the alarm on 8 June while the other waited behind.

It was not until 13 June that the long journey to haul the injured cave explorer to safety began.

The Riesending cave - "massive thing" in German - is in southern Germany's Unterberg mountain range, and Johann Westhauser was part of the initial group that discovered it in the mid-1990s, helping to map it some years later.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Rescuers work above the Riesending cave in preparation for the final part of the operation
Image copyright AP
Image caption Once the rescue is complete, the plan is to airlift him immediately to hospital

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

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