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BERCHTESGADEN, Germany – Two doctors reached a severely injured researcher trapped deep inside an Alpine cave and hoped to start bringing him to the surface over the next 24 hours, rescuers said Thursday.
“This is an important milestone, but it’s only one of many,” Stefan Schneider of Bavaria’s mountain rescue service said.
Rescue teams have built up five camps throughout the underground cave system of shafts, tunnels and canyons, he added. Officials expect it will take about one day to transport the 52-year-old between each camp, but with possible pauses to rest it could take about a week to bring him up to the surface.
On Wednesday, rescuers were forced to dispatch a second medical team after the first party became too exhausted to continue.
Schneider said the researcher, who suffered severe head injuries when he was hit by falling rocks inside the rocky labyrinth more than 3,000 feet under the surface, would be evacuated on a stretcher. Some tunnels are so narrow, however, that the injured man will have to get off the stretcher and climb himself with the help of rescuers.
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Despite his severe brain injuries, the patient was stable and communicating with rescuers, who first reached him Monday after a 12-hour climb, Michael Petermeyer, a doctor working with rescuers, said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“Normally, the patient would now be in an intensive care unit, but inside the cave that level of care is impossible to achieve,” he said.
The medical team is nevertheless optimistic given that they were able to get medicine to the patient and keep his body temperature to a normal level, he said. The temperature inside the deep cave is only about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
“The cave environment is already very dangerous for a healthy person,” Petermeyer added.
Rescuers have dispatched several teams from different European countries into the cave. One is with the patient, others are installing ropes and climbing equipment to make the evacuation safer.