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French Rescue Crew Seeks Spelunker

June 4, 2001

MONTPELLIER, France (AP) _ Rescue workers began a descent into a more than 230-foot deep cave Monday to search for a veteran spelunker who became separated from three companions.

The drama came less than three weeks after eight Swiss tourists were rescued from a cave after it was inundated by floodwaters.

The 40-year-old spelunker and father of five, Patrick Meunier, had not been heard from since before dawn Monday, after three other members of his group emerged from the cave 25 miles east of Montpellier.

The four entered the cave early Sunday, officials said. The lost spelunker became separated from his partners, who then climbed out to call authorities.

A rescue team made up of five expert spelunkers with diving equipment entered the cave about 8 p.m. after carefully studying its configuration.

The Fontanilles cave, which holds water chambers to provide the village of Puechabon with water, is closed to the public and its entrance blocked with a stone barrier.

The prefect of the Herault district, Daniel Constantin, said he planned to file a complaint against the cavers for entering the cave.

Last month, seven Swiss students and their instructor were trapped for three days by floodwaters in a shallow but winding cave near the Swiss border.

The eight, who had explored the cave as part of a confidence-building endeavor, were brought out uninjured on May 19 with the help of more than 200 rescue workers, divers and caving experts.

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