German researcher hauled to surface of alpine cave

BY Talia Mindich  June 19, 2014 at 12:57 PM EDT
According to the Bavarian Mountain Patrol, a total of 728 rescue workers helped out during the 12-day rescue. The rescue was a successful collaboration with the best cave rescuers from all over Europe. Photo handout from the Bavarian Mountain Patrol

According to the Bavarian Mountain Patrol, a total of 728 rescue workers helped out during the 12-day rescue. The rescue was a successful collaboration with the best cave rescuers from all over Europe. Photo handout from the Bavarian Mountain Patrol

An injured German cave researcher was hauled the final 180 meters to the surface of the country’s deepest cavern Thursday morning, ending a more than week-long multinational rescue operation.

Johann Westhauser was struck on the head during a rockslide on June 8 while he was nearly 1,000 meters underground in the depths of an alpine cave system known as Riesending, or Big Thing, which is near the Austrian border. It took a fellow explorer three days to reach the surface to alert authorities.

More than 700 people from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia and Italy participated in the rescue, according to operation director Klaus Reindl. Rescuers had to squeeze Westhauser, who was on a stretcher, through a labyrinth of narrow passages and haul him up precipitous vertical shafts.

“Since the birth of caving, there have been only two incidents of this depth, complexity and difficulty,” Italian rescuer Roberto Conti said.

Westhauser’s condition is reportedly stable. After assessment at the mouth of the cave, he was transported by helicopter to a nearby hospital.