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Receding water levels mean end to Swiss cave drama near

Rescuers say high water levels have hampered efforts to evacuate the Swiss Keystone Archive

Water levels have been receding in the French cave where eight Swiss are trapped, giving hope to rescue efforts. Authorities in France said they were waiting for the water to drop by another metre before attempting to evacuate the Swiss from the flooded cave.

This content was published on May 19, 2001 - 13:24

The seven students and their guide spent a third night in the cave, which is in the town of Goumois, close to the Swiss border. They are sheltering on a ledge.

The cavers have been trapped underground since Wednesday night, after a flash flood sealed off the entrance to the cave. Divers located them on Friday.

"We hope to get them out before sunset," said Alain Géhin, the prefect of the Doubs region.

Regional police said there had been delays in evacuating them because rescue efforts were being hampered by high water levels.

"The flow of water is a major factor in preventing the rescuers accessing the cave," said Eric Zipper, a French speleological aid worker.

"The entrance to the cave (where the eight are stranded) is inaccessible," Zipper added. "The rescue teams are being swept away by the water."

Around 300 firemen, police and rescuers have been working round the clock to free the eight since midnight on Wednesday. Additional pumps have been brought in to speed up the process of draining the cave.

On Saturday, rescuers also used explosives to enlarge the small cavity located near the group to speed the release of water, Géhin said.

The cavers - aged between 25 and 35 - were said to be weak and exhausted, but otherwise in good health. They were given hot food and drinks to sustain them until they could be pulled out.

"Contact has been re-established with the cavers," Géhin told reporters. "They are in good health, but a bit cold," he added.

Rescuers were unable to reach the students using the cave entrance, and were forced to dig a tunnel from above to gain access to a known cavity some 70 metres from the entrance.

Seven of the Swiss are student social workers from a Zurich college and one was a teacher. Reports said they had undertaken the tour to help develop their ability to face challenges in their careers.

The college directors said they were "extremely relieved" at the happy outcome. French media reports had criticised the group's guide for going ahead with the expedition despite adverse weather conditions.

The Swiss president, Moritz Leuenberger, extended his thanks to the French foreign minister, Hubert Védrine, who is visiting Bern, for France's efforts to rescue the trapped Swiss.

swissinfo with agencies

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