Trapped cavers reach the surface
GOUMOIS, France -- Eight Swiss tourists have emerged safe and well from a flooded cave in eastern France where they were trapped for four days.
The eight climbed through the entrance to daylight and to cheers and sighs of relief from around 250 rescuers who worked day and night since last Wednesday.
Rescuers had used dynamite to unblock the flood waters that had hampered the battle to free them from the cave near the city of Goumois.
"I can declare them all in very good form," Alain Gehin, a local government official, said as the group of seven students and a teacher from a Zurich social work college reached the surface.
The five men and three women walked out of the mouth of the cave covered in mud, accompanied by the potholing experts who went in to fetch them.
They were taken to a makeshift medical camp nearby for further checks, a shower and to meet relatives.
Rescuers said they would then be transported from the cave area across the border to the Delemont hospital in the Swiss canton of Jura.
The novice Swiss potholers were caught off-guard by a sudden rainstorm and a surge in floodwaters on Wednesday evening and forced to take refuge on a rock ledge about 100 metres (yards) from the mouth of the cave, where they spent the next 72 hours.
After 30 hours of working in shifts to find them, divers came close to quitting before they discovered the trapped group Friday morning standing on a ridge a few feet above water level.
Divers swam through the water channel which had trapped them in the cave to bring food, drinking water, blankets and heating equipment.
But the final rescue was held off while teams on the surface worked to drain the waters.
Late on Saturday afternoon, the rescuers from France and Switzerland speeded up the drainage by using dynamite to blow away part of the rock holding the waters inside.
The rescue mission involved 118 potholing specialists, more than 70 emergency services staff, close to 50 policemen and more than a dozen power utility and other experts, plus a helicopter and dozens of pumps and other equipment.
The potholers went on the underground exploit for an exam project designed to test their "personal limits."
The region, like many others in France, has been hit by above-average rainfall this year, making potholing even riskier than usual.
In November 1999, an equally big rescue operation was mounted to hoist seven experienced potholers out of a flooded cave in southwestern France where they survived on tinned sardines and chestnuts.
Didier Pasian, one of the men leading the Goumois rescue, said it would take another night's work to retrieve all the equipment deployed in the cave. "It's going to be another long and hard night for us," he said.
The cave known as Bief-du-Paraud, or Paraud Canal, it is considered ideal for inexperienced potholers.
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