Doctor descends vast Bavarian cave to treat injured man

Treacherous conditions slow rescue from the Riesending cave, 1km under the Alps

 Rescue workers planning to bring the injured German man out of the Riesending cave near Berchtesgaden, southern Germany. Photograph: EPA/Bavarian Red Cross

Rescue workers planning to bring the injured German man out of the Riesending cave near Berchtesgaden, southern Germany. Photograph: EPA/Bavarian Red Cross

Wed, Jun 11, 2014, 01:00

An Austrian doctor has descended into a cave deep inside the Bavarian Alps to treat a 52-year-old researcher injured in a rockfall on Sunday.

Johann Westhauser was in a three-man team that went into into the Riesending cave on the German-Austrian border at lunchtime on Saturday.

At around 1.30am on Sunday falling rocks struck Mr Westhauser as he hung on a line. His two colleagues moved him to a safe place before one of them headed for help – a 6km climb to the entrance of the cave that took about 12 hours.

Two hours after he sounded the alarm a mountain-rescue team reached the cave entrance.

They got to the injured man on Monday just before 6am and reported that he was too injured to be moved from the chilly, 4 degree-cave without medical treatment.

Yesterday afternoon an Austrian doctor entered the cave and was expected to reach Mr Westhauser at around midnight.

Beginning with a 300m sheer drop and involving extremely narrow, slimy passages, the Riesending is Germany’s largest cave network, which is 19km long and , 1,180 metres deep.

Discovered in 1995, it is considered as challenging as the Eiger mountain with its notorious north face.

Reports yesterday suggested Mr Westhauser, from Stuttgart, and an experienced cave researcher, was less seriously injured than initially reported, and was able to stand and move about for a short time.

His physical condition will be crucial for the rescue effort, expected to last at least a week.

“If he was too weak they would have to transport him lying down, but the cave is too narrow in parts to allow that,” said Stefan Schneider of Bavarian mountain rescue.

“His only chance is a rescue involving a mixture of lying and standing.”