Experts rule caving accident could have been avoided

The Swiss students were trapped inside the cave for more than three days Keystone Archive

Experts from the Swiss Speleological Society (SSS) have released a report in which they strongly criticise the organisers of a caving trip which left eight people trapped underground for more than three days.

This content was published on June 25, 2001 - 20:02

The report claims organisers were "not sufficiently competent" and that Altamira, the company in charge of the trip into the cave, had "gaping holes in its understanding of the underground terrain".

Seven Swiss students and their guide were trapped in a cave in the French village of Goumois, just over the Swiss border, when a flash flood sealed off the only entry and exit point.

A team of more than 200 Swiss and French rescuers was drafted in to pump out the water and locate the trapped cavers. They were only located more than 72 hours after the alarm was raised, sheltering on a ledge inside the cave.

According to the SSS report, organisers of the trip "should have known that the flooding of the cave was hardly an exceptional event".

The report's authors also argue that the organisers ignored basic safety regulations laid down by the speleological society, which they claim would have prevented the accident in the first place.

"The organisers did not take the decision that was crying out to be taken under the circumstances - namely, the decision to abandon an expedition into the cave," they said.

The report concludes that the underground world of caves is "a fragile and sometimes hostile environment" which is ill-suited to exploration by "organised, commercial tours".

The expedition, which was part of a study programme for the participants, was designed to develop the students' ability to respond collectively when faced with difficult situations.

swissinfo with agencies

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