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Rescue Crew Prepares Spelunkers For Ascent From Flooded Cave

July 11, 1996

AUTRANS, France (AP) _ A rescue crew readied four exhausted spelunkers for the steep climb out of one of Europe’s deepest caves on Thursday, five days after a flash flood trapped them there.

Two other explorers were killed in the cave flood, which was triggered by heavy rains and a summer snowstorm.

Rescuers recovered the bodies and rescued the four other explorers Wednesday after a two-day search complicated by high water levels in underground passages of the cave.

A medical team entered the cave at the foot of the French Alps early Thursday to aid two injured survivors. Rescuers said they were suffering from exhaustion and hypothermia.

``Before even thinking of bringing them back to the surface they have to recuperate and sleep,″ a local official said.

The body of Nicola Perrin, 31, was found almost 2,400 feet from the cave’s entrance. She had been trapped under a waterfall and drowned, rescue team leader Albert Oyhancabal said. She was the only woman in the group of six British and Hungarian explorers.

Circumstances around the death of the second explorer, a Hungarian whose body was found almost 2,700 feet from the entrance, were not clear, Oyhancabal said. He did not release the man’s name.

Injured were William Stead, a British citizen, and Karoly Tompa, a Hungarian. Authorities did not identify the other survivors.

The first rescue team descended 2,000 feet Tuesday night but found no trace of the missing spelunkers. A wider rescue operation organized Wednesday located Perrin, Stead and Tompa.

The four surviving explorers are in two groups: Stead and one of the Hungarians are at 2,112 feet, and two Hungarians are at 2,970 feet.

Officials said the dead spelunkers would not be taken out of the cave until the other are rescued, probably Saturday or Sunday.

Storms already have killed six hikers and mountain climbers and forced the organizers of the Tour de France bicycle race to eliminate two mountain climbs on a leg of the route through the Alps.

The Berger cave, whose depth reaches down to 3,686 feet, was discovered at the beginning of the century. Exploration of the cave began in 1953.

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