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Cave rescue

Judith Hartl / hfJune 18, 2014

A rescue team brought injured spelunker Johann Westhauser back to the surface after he was injured about one kilometer beneath the surface. They emerged from the cave earlier than expected.

Rettung aus Riesending-Schachthöhle geglückt
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Thursday, June 19 @ 7:00PM

Over 200 people were involved in the rescue operation the culminated with the injured Johann Westhauser being pulled back up to the surface in a stretcher on Thursday.

Thursday, June 19 @ 3:00PM

DW's Judith Hartl reports from Berchtesgaden:

"Representatives from the Bavarian Mountain Rescue Service were overcome by their emotions for the first time. 'Today a chapter of Alpine rescue history has been written,' said Norbert Heiland. 'We thought a rescue from nearly 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) underground would be impossible - even we had our doubts at the beginning.'

But the mammoth undertaking was successful and the patient, Johann Westhauser, has arrived at the hospital where he will be thoroughly checked out. When asked which hospital Westhauser is being treated at, Heiland had a simple answer, 'The one that's being kept secret.'

The unique rescue was only possible thanks to the help of the rescue team's many members, said Andy Scheurer, the head of the Swiss rescue group. 'It was a moving experience - the rescue team in the cave did most the work,' he added. They put in a first-class performance for 274 hours and even the toughest team members were near tears at some point in the rescue, Scheurer said.

Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann, who traveled to the cave from Munich, said he was impressed by the 'largest and longest rescue operation in the history of Bavaria's Mountain Rescue Service.' He also added that the mission's success was 'only possible thanks to the support and solidarity of international rescue services.'"

Thursday, June 19 @ 1:30PM

The first pictures from the Westhauser and the rescue team emerging from the cave have been released.

The rescue team outside the cave Photo: Nicolas Armer/dpa
Image: picture-alliance/dpa
The rescue team outside the cave Photo: Nicolas Armer/dpa
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Thursday, June 19 @ 11:50 AM

Injured cave scientist Johann Westhauser emerged from the depths of the Riesending-Schachthöhle near Berchtesgaden in southern Germany at 11:44AM this morning after a two-week subterranean ordeal.

A team of helpers and doctors dragged Westhauser out of the cave on a specially-made stretcher after the researcher was seriously hurt by falling rock 1,000 meters inside the cave on June 8. It took six days to reach the surface.

After an initial medical examination on site at the cave entrance, Westhauser will be flown by helicopter to a nearby hospital for further treatment.

Thursday, June 19 @ 7:30 AM

The final leg of the ascent out of the cave, slated for early this morning, was delayed by 90 minutes. Rescuers finally got underway around 5:30AM and are now expected to reach daylight between 10 and 11 AM. A team of doctors is standing by to attend to the seriously injured cave researcher Johann Westhauser as soon as he emerges.

Thursday, June 19 @ 00:25AM

Bad news in Berchtesgaden: the rescue is to be delayed after all - a break has just been announced. The rescue team is to return into the cave at around 4am and complete the final meters - an operation expected to last three hours. We will return tomorrow morning to bring the latest news.

Wednesday, June 18 @ 10.00PM

We're waiting for the message to come by SMS: "Westhauser has left the cave." That could be soon - around midnight - but it could be at 4am in the morning. So patience. At least my colleagues have let me watch a bit of the football in their van.

What will happen to Johann Westhauser once he's left the cave? First he'll be examined by the doctors, who have brought a mobile practise to the mountain. Then he'll be taken to hospital by helicopter.

Which one? We don't know - the press aren't being told, because then they will already be there when the chopper arrives. The mountain rescue service hasn't always had a good time with us journalists in the past few days. That's why we're all being very careful with certain information. (DW reporter Judith Hartl, in Berchtesgaden)

Wednesday, June 18 @ 8.00PM

The rescue team and Westhauser have reached the final stage. If the rest of the operation goes as well as it has so far, he could emerge from the cave between 10 p.m. tonight and the early morning hours on Thursday. While he still won't be able to see the light of day after 11 days underground, it's easy to imagine that some fresh air will be a welcome change.

The final stage of the operation goes up along a practically vertical shaft. The rescue team will use their own body weight to pull Westhauser up the shaft - along with the medical staff that doesn't leave his side. They'll have to make it up 180 meters (590 feet) before reaching a spot they can take a break and gather their energy ahead of the final ascent.

Riesending-Schachthöhle Rettungsaktion 18.06.2014
The rescue could end as early as Wednesday nightImage: BRK/Bergwacht Bayern

All in all, the Bavarian Mountain Rescue team will have to make it up 300 meters to get to the cave entrance. Which they are hoping to do soon. We'll be watching for them to come out.

Wednesday, June 18 @ 7.25PM

DW reporter Judith Hartl, in Berchtesgaden, reports: "Most people involved in rescue operations who I've met here are from Italy. They tell me it's because there are so many caves there. The same goes for Croatia. There are so many caves and just as many spelunkers. The people running the rescue operation are not allowed to talk with journalists - they don't even want their pictures taken - and all the information we get has to come through official channels."

Wednesday, June 18 @ 6.30PM

DW reporter Judith Hartl, in Berchtesgaden, reports:

"Norbert Heiland of the Bavarian Mountain Rescue Service surprised journalists by saying there would be another press conference this evening at 6 p.m. The rescue team and Johann Westhauser are not taking a break as originally planned. Instead they are going to keep going and work their way up the 180 meter shaft. The shaft is wide enough, Heiland said, that Westhauser's stretcher can be pulled up horizontally. This part of the rescue operation is expected to take about three hours. After that the shaft get narrower and the job will get harder.

But this marks the first time the Mountain Rescue Service is willing to give a window for when the operation could end: Westhauser will likely reach the surface sometime between 10 p.m. and the early morning hours.

We in the media were all taken by surprise. Just a few hours ago, guesses were that he would come out on Thursday or even Friday. Hopefully this is a sign that Westhauser is doing well and that the rescue team is working well together."

Wednesday, June 18 @ 5.00PM

Rescue operations running more or less as planned, DW's Bastian Hartig reports from Bavaria. No word on when the rescue team is likely to emerge from the cave.

Wednesday, June 18 @ 4.00PM

"When the rescue operation will be finished is a question no one here is willing to answer. Neither the Mountain Rescue Service nor the police, which are responsible for maintaining a barrier around the cave as well as the countless helicopter flights to the mountain," says DW reporter Judith Hartl in Berchtesgaden.

Wednesday, June 18, @ 3.00PM

The press conference has ended and we've got an update from reporter Judith Hartl:

"Starting with the reassuring news: Johann Westhauser is doing well. The rescue team has reached the bivouac I. "This bivouac is very well equipped and everyone will be able to rest up there," said Norbert Heiland of the Bavarian Mountain Rescue Service.

The next step will be the final ascent out of the cave - which is no easy feat. It's a 180-meter (590-foot) vertical shaft that the stretcher will have to be pulled up. The rescue team won't be using a motor to pull the stretcher up because of the exhaust it would create in the cave and because they will have more control over the ascent pulling by hand. "We'll put some muscle into it," Heiland said.

To picture it in your head, imagine the rescue team members hanging on a rope and - with the help of a few tools - pulling up 100 kilograms (220 pounds). That's how much the patient and stretcher weigh. It's going to be an impressive accomplishment and take a lot of strenuous effort.

Wednesday, June 18 @ 2.15PM

And there she is again: Judith Hartl has been in Berchtesgaden and is keeping us informed on the latest news.

Judith Hartl in a live stream screen shot
Judith Hartl getting the latest report from a press conference in Berchtesgaden.Image: www.br.de

While Judith watches live, the rest of the department is following events via live stream (thanks!). Soon we'll know about how Johann Westhauser's rescue is progressing. Stay with the ticker here for more updates.

Wednesday, June 18 @ 12.15PM

I had no idea that the Unterberg ranges between Berchtesgaden and Salzburg were so big: 70 square kilometers. The highest peak reaches 1,973 meters. But what's special about the Unterberg is that it consists of limestone. And because limestone is so soluble, all these caves formed - over the course of thousands of years. One of the caves is now known around the world because of the operation to rescue Johann Westhauser, the scientist who has been trapped down there for eleven days. The Riesending cave is Germany's deepest. Until recently, it was known only to a handful of researchers, including Westhauser.

Wednesday, June 18 @ 11AM

The Bavarian rescue team says Johann Westhauser made it to a camp at bivouac I this morning. So he's approximately 400 meters from the entrance to the caves. Now for the last leg! And luckily everyone is doing well.

The rescuers are working in a rotation - but the operation is slowly sapping everyone's strength. Especially where they are now - in this wet part of the caves that branches out in all directions - they need all the strength they can muster. They are being supplied with food and drinks.

Riesending-Schachthöhle Rettungsaktion 17.06.2014
Westhauser hasn't seen sunlight for eleven daysImage: picture alliance/AP Photo/BRK/Bergwacht Bayern

Wednesday, June 18 @ 10.30AM

There's a busy sense of activity here at Berchtesgaden, a usually calm part of the country. When I ask for directions to the mountain rescue team the response is laughter. "Just follow the hubbub. You can't miss them." And they're right. There are masses of press cars, broadcast trucks, and rescue workers - many are tired, but optimistic, writes DW reporter Judith Hartl in her tweet below.

Wednesday, June 18 @ 10AM

Helicopters are constantly overhead. So far, rescue workers have delivered more than 30 tons of materials to the Unterberg ranges. The cave has been so well secured and there's some talk about opening part of the Riesending caves to tourists. But the most important thing is that Johann Westhauser is said to be a mere 300 meters from the surface.

Tuesday, June 17:

Bivouac II, at a depth of nearly 500 meters (1,640 feet), should soon be reached. Westhauser is still stable, and the weather forecast is good. The team is optimistic that the next steps will proceed according to plan.

Bavaria cave rescue
Helmet cameras are allowing others to follow the heroic rescue effortsImage: bergwacht-bayern.de

Although it's difficult to believe considering the narrow shafts, around 60 rescuers are currently in the cave. At the entrance, 10 more rescuers are waiting to provide support, if needed.

DW reporter Judith Hartl is getting as close as possible to the events, and will continue to keep us updated.

Deutsche Welle Judith Hartl
Judith Hartl is reporting onsite from BerchtesgadenImage: DW

You can check the dw_wissenschaft Twitter account for live updates (in German).

June 16, 2014:

The rescue team and Westhauser arrived at bivouac (or camp) III - much earlier than expected. They originally planned two days for managing that section. Fortunately, it took only nine hours.

That's surprising and quite impressive, considering that the leg from bivouac IV to bivouac III is an almost vertical climb. That meant Westhauser had to be pulled up with cables on a stabilizing stretcher. Specialists ensured safety along the entire route - with ropes, lots of bolts and steel pins.

According to doctors who are accompanying the rescue almost 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) below ground, Johann Westhauser's health is still stable. That's good news for now!

Riesending cave infographic (DW)