Tour group heavily criticised following cave rescue

Hours after the students were pulled alive from the cave, questions were being asked about who is to blame for the incident Keystone

Tour group organisers are facing strong criticism in the Swiss press following the successful rescue on Saturday night of eight Swiss nationals trapped in a cave on the French border for 72 hours.

This content was published on May 20, 2001 - 12:04

In a strongly worded critique, the Swiss newspaper, "", said that hundreds of rescuers had been working to "resolve the completely irresponsible behaviour" of the group of cavers.

After an overnight stay in a nearby hospital and a final medical examination on Sunday, the group were declared fit and well and allowed to return home.

The group's guide, as well as Altamira, the company which organised the excursion into the cave, have come under intense criticism in France and Switzerland for going ahead with the cave tour despite adverse weather conditions.

In an interview with the paper, the head of the regional police, Alain Gehin, said it "beggared belief that nobody at Altamira had realised that it had been raining in the area virtually non-stop for more than two months".

Valentin Vonder Mühll, director of Altamira, refused to be held responsible for the turn of events in the French village of Goumois. He told the German-language paper, "SonntagsZeitung", that "sometimes there are accidents where the blame rests with nobody."

"It is in any case far too early," he said, "to talk about blame when we don't even yet know what exactly happened down there."

According to Gehin, 411 per cent more rain has fallen in the area since March than in the same period last year.

The cavers were trapped 80 metres underground on Wednesday night when a flash flood sealed off the entrance to the cave. However, it took until Saturday night to reduce the water levels enough to free them.

The potholers, aged between 25 and 35, are student social workers from a Zurich college. They had gone into the cave as part of a course designed to develop their ability to face challenges in their careers.

The German-language newspaper, "SonntagsBlick", focused its attention on the role of the group's guide, thirty-two-year old Judith Steinle. The paper asked whether Steinle should be considered "a failure or a hero".

Agathe Steinle, the guide's mother, told the paper she rejected any accusation that her daughter had acted irresponsibly in leading the group of students into the cave.

"Of course there is always a risk that something might happen," she said, "but Judith is competent. She regularly attends training courses and I have absolute faith in her ability."

swissinfo with agencies

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In compliance with the JTI standards

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