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Trapped explorers led out of Mexican cave
Updated: 2004-03-26 09:06

British divers have pulled out the first of six cavers trapped underground for a week in a flooded Mexican cave, in a mishap that has grown into a diplomatic row.

British explorers relax after being rescued from the cave where they were trapped for over a week.  [AP]
Four of the cavers are members of the British armed forces and the Mexican government is upset that it was not informed in advance that a team of military personnel was on its soil.

Acting British ambassador Vijay Rangarajan said two rescue divers had used scuba gear to bring the trapped caver out in a journey that took 45 minutes each way. The divers hope to take the rest of the group out one-by-one by this evening.

"The divers have entered the sump, and they have been to the other side and made contact with the team. They are in a good condition, they seem fine," Rangarajan told Reuters. "It's not going to be a quick process, it will take a few hours."

He identified the rescued caver as Chris Mitchell. Mexican emergency workers said they would give the cavers a swift medical examination at the scene, before transferring them to a military hospital near the central Mexican city of Puebla.

A British caver, accompanied by a Mexican soldier, walks towards the entrance of a cave system near the town of Cuetzalan in which six colleagues were trapped by rising water levels over a week ago, March 25, 2004.  [Reuters]
There are 13 expedition members in all, most from the British military's Combined Services Caving Association. The six-member group, all experienced cavers, became trapped by rising waters a week ago.

Above ground, Mexican police cordoned off the approach to the cave, training guns on scores of journalists who had descended on the mist-shrouded jungle hilltop to report on rescue efforts.

Mexico's President Vicente Fox has asked for a "swift explanation" of why the foreign soldiers were training in the cave complex, one of the most extensive in the world. The country does not allow foreign military exercises on its soil.

Relations with Britain are already sensitive because of allegations it helped the United States spy on Mexico's United Nations mission in the run-up to the Iraq war.

The expedition initially turned down offers of help from Mexican emergency workers. Rangarajan said on Thursday that the group wanted to wait for the two divers, with whom they had practised rescue drills in the past.

An unidentified member of the British exploring team stands in the cave near Cuetzalan, Mexico, this month.  [AP]
In London, a spokeswoman at Mexico's Embassy said the ambassador met Foreign Office officials. She did not reveal the outcome.

The cavers are camped on a 15-feet (5 metres) ledge above a fast-flowing underground river and have enough food to last until the weekend. Divers have to swim and walk through a series of caves to reach the trapped men.

The cavers are not in imminent danger and are using a camping stove to cook pasta with cheese and instant chocolate cake, and have plenty of light and dry clothing, said expedition leader Maj. Steve Whitlock.

They use the river for their hygienic needs, he said.

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