Span­ish caver trapped in Morocco dies, 2 saved

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY GUIL­LAUME KLEIN AND DANIEL SILVA

A Span­ish caver trapped at the bot­tom of a cliff in Morocco’s High At­las moun­tains died on Satur­day, but res­cuers were able to save two of his friends, of­fi­cials said.

Emer­gency ser­vices had ear­lier in the day launched an op­er­a­tion to res­cue the three Spa­niards af­ter find­ing them alive days af­ter they were re­ported miss­ing.

Span­ish me­dia iden­ti­fied the three as 26-year-old lawyer Gus­tavo Virues and po­lice­men Juan Bo­li­var and Jose An­to­nio Martinez, both 41.

It was not im­me­di­ately known which of the three men had died.

They were part of a group of nine Spa­niards who had split up on Sun­day to ex­plore dif­fer­ent caves and were later due to meet in Ouarza­zate in south­ern Morocco.

By Tues­day af­ter­noon the three failed to show up as planned, trig­ger­ing con­cern among their fel­low cavers who alerted the au­thor­i­ties.

“The two per­sons who were in­jured re­ceived first aid and will be evac­u­ated to a hos­pi­tal, but the third caver has un­for­tu­nately died,” MAP news agency re­ported lo­cal of­fi­cials in Ouarza­zate as say­ing.

They said the trio “fell from a cliff sev­eral hun­dred me­ters high” in the Tarmest re­gion.

The Moroc­can Royal Gen­darmerie, Civil Pro­tec­tion and two doc­tors had scram­bled ear­lier Satur­day to res­cue the three af­ter they were found alive by search teams in the rugged High At­las range.

They were found at the bot­tom of a cliff in the com­mune of Tamest in the south­ern Ouarza­zate re­gion, MAP re­ported.

Zoubir Bouhour, head of the Ouarza­zate re­gional tourism or­ga­ni­za­tion, said ear­lier that “he­li­copters and el­e­ments of the civil de­fense were par­tic­i­pat­ing in the res­cue ef­fort.”

But he warned that ac­cess to the area was dif­fi­cult, with no pos­si­bil­ity of the he­li­copters land­ing. Res­cuers would have to make their way on foot to the site.

The area the three had been ex­plor­ing in­cludes peaks of around 4,000 me­ters (13,125 feet) cov­ered with snow from a heavy win­ter, and there were fears the cavers may have been caught in flash floods.

When the ini­tial news came that they had been found alive, rel­a­tives ex­pressed re­lief.

Martinez’s wife, Ju­lia Or­donez, told Cadena Cope ra­dio “they have been found, thank God, the night­mare is over.”

‘They are in trou­ble’

Or­donez also told Span­ish state tele­vi­sion TVE that one of the three had been in­jured, but was un­able to pro­vide de­tails.

Me­dia in Madrid, quot­ing in­te­rior min­istry sources, said seven Span­ish po­lice­men from a unit spe­cial­iz­ing in res­cue ef­forts trav- eled to Morocco on Satur­day to join the op­er­a­tion.

Ve­hi­cles bear­ing Span­ish diplo­matic li­cense plates were seen near Ouarza­zate air­port, an AFP pho­tog­ra­pher said.

Heavy cloud over the re­gion ham­pered the res­cue ef­fort, re­duc­ing visibility for the he­li­copters in­volved in the search.

Or­donez said the trio, long­time friends, had years of ex­pe­ri­ence moun­tain climb­ing and cav­ing in the Alps and the An­des and had pre­pared well for their trip.

“They are not back­pack­ers,” she said, adding that if they failed to get to the meet­ing place “it was be­cause they are in trou­ble.”

On Fri­day, one of their com­pan­ions told Span­ish ra­dio Canal Sur the men may have been caught in a canyon by a flash flood caused by melt­ing snow.

Ouarza­zate lies to the south of the High At­las range on the edge of the Sa­hara desert, about 510 kilo­me­ters (320 miles) by road from the cap­i­tal Rabat.

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