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Swiss still trapped in cave after three nights underground

Rescuers say high water levels are hampering efforts to evacuate the eight Swiss Keystone Archive

Eight Swiss have spent a third night in a flooded cave in France after high water levels prevented rescue workers from pulling them out. They are sheltering on a ledge inside the cave.

This content was published on May 19, 2001 - 11:20

Divers located the seven students and their guide in the waterlogged cave on Friday. The cavers have been trapped underground since Wednesday night.

However, regional police in the town of Goumois, close to the Swiss border, said that 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 from 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, after a flash flood sealed off the entrance to the cave.

Hope of pulling the cavers out safely remains strong, as the water is receding slowly but surely. Additional pumps have been brought in to speed up the process of draining the cave.

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.

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 were 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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