Johann Westhauser was exploring one of Germany’s deepest cave systems on June 8, when he fell and hit his head. At the time of the injury, Westhauser was 3,200 feet underground with an injury that made it impossible for him to get back to the surface on his own. Rescue crews took 12 days to finally make the rescue.
The Riesending complex cave is located near Bavaria’s border with Austria, it is 1,148 meters deep and has tunnels, shafts and caves extending over 19.2 kilometers. Johann Westhauser was no newbie to cave exploring or this particular cave complex In fact, Westhauser was one of the team that first discovered the Riesending complex according to The Telegraph. Westhauser was injured when he was caught in a rock fall while exploring the caves. Fortunately, Westhauser was traveling in a group. One of the explorers made the 12-hour journey back to the surface to call for help while the others stayed behind to care for Westhauser.
To ascend from the area Westhauser was injured, it typically takes around 12 hours. However, with Johann’s injuries, he was unable to stand. The path back to the surface requires steep and narrow horizontal and vertical shafts. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that some 70 rescue workers in the cave to help recover the man while further teams, along with doctors, were waiting above ground. The rescue took in total 11 days.
The massive rescue undertaking has been determined to be the most expensive rescue operation in German history. There were 70 rescuers were in the cave as Westhauser was slowly pulled up the final section, a 600-feet vertical shaft, by rope. His injuries were too severe to risk an electric motor, so rescuers had to haul him up by hand, and use their own bodies as counterweights.
At the final segment of the rescue, teams had to carry Westhauser in relay teams of 15 over a three mile stretch. Along with the grueling physical demands of the rescue, teams also had to face near freezing temperatures, cave winds, waterfalls and tight squeezes. Westhauser was placed on a gurney and covered with Styrofoam to protect him from the cold, they also had a helmet on his head.
The medical condition of Westhauser has yet to be released; however, rescuers claim he seemed in good spirits as they removed him from the cave complex.
Unfortunately, many cave accidents can be deadly, such as in the Blood Grotto drownings where four cave divers died in an underwater cave system.
[Image Credit: NBC News]