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Injured German Cave Researcher Rescued After 2-Week Ordeal

An injured German cave explorer, who spent two weeks trapped underground in the Alps, has reached the surface after an operation involving hundreds of rescuers workers.

Johann Westhauser, 52, a researcher who was taking measurements of Germany's deepest cave system, hit his head during a fall more than 3,000 feet down. As we reported last week, it took one of the injured man's two companions 12 hours just to get outside and get help.

The New York Times says Westhauser was underground for 11 days, 10 hours and 40 minutes when he appeared at the opening of the cave system known as Riesending, or "Big Thing," early Thursday.

"We have achieved our goal," Norbert Heiland, the head of Bavaria's Mountain Rescue Service, told a news conference. "We have also made rescue history, which was only possible through international cooperation."

The Times says:

"The complexity and difficulty of the effort was apparent from the start. The rocky, scrub-scarred surface of the nearly 6,000-foot mountain, where the cavern's narrow mouth opens in a vertical drop known as 'the chimney,' initially made it impossible for a helicopter to land. Supplies and equipment had to be lowered by cable until a landing pad could be cleared.

"But solidarity among the men and women who ensure the safety of those who explore the Alps runs strong, and within days of Mr. Westhauser's accident, hundreds of rescue workers began arriving from Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Croatia. Many were spelunkers themselves, a tight-knit group of expert climbers who descend into the inner depths of mountains."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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