German cave rescue: Johann Westhauser almost at the surface, say experts

The injured researcher could be above ground by Thursday or Friday

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The Independent Online

Rescue teams racing to save an injured researcher from the deepest cave in Germany have almost reached the end of their operation, according to officials.

Workers are nearing the final base station, and will begin moving Johann Westhauser after a few hours of rest, BBC News reported on Wednesday.

The 52-year-old sustained head injuries on 8 June while he was nearly 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) underground in the Riesending cave system in the Alps near the Austrian border.

One of the potholer's two uninjured companions alerted the authorities to the injury by making a 12-hour climb back to the cave entrance, while the other researcher stayed behind.


It is believed he has suffered what doctors have described as a mild version of the crippling brain injury affecting the Formula One driver Michael Schumacher.

Experts from Germany, Austria and Switzerland began their attempt to bring Westhauser, who is strapped to a stretcher, to the surface last Friday by navigating the cave system which includes some 1,000ft vertical drops.

On Tuesday, they announced they had raised him to about 500 meters (1,640 feet) below the ground and that Westhauser was conscious and reportedly able to walk - allaying fears that he might have been paralysed.

At the time, Mountain rescue official Stefan Schneider told reporters the operation is on schedule.

He added: “Let's wait and see whether the rescue we're all eagerly awaiting comes off on Thursday or Friday.”

Westhauser was reportedly one of the team who discovered the cave system in 1995, and was attempting to uncover a "super cave" that has eluded geologists and explorers for decades when he became trapped.

Additional  reporting by AP