Search for answers underway following cave rescue

Rosmarie Zapfl said it was too early to apportion blame for the caving fiasco Keystone

A panel of experts is to investigate how seven Swiss students and their guide came to be trapped by a flash flood in a cave in eastern France last week. The social workers from a Zurich college were rescued on Saturday night after spending three days underground.

This content was published on May 21, 2001 - 13:59

At a news conference on Monday, the school authorities said the seven students, aged between 25 and 35, were all doing well considering the ordeal they'd been through.

Rosmarie Zapfl, of the college's management board, said it was too early to apportion blame. She said it would not be known who, if anyone, was responsible until the investigation was completed. It's not yet clear who will be on the investigating panel.

There has been criticism of the guide, Judith Steinle, for going ahead with the expedition despite the adverse weather conditions. The operation to rescue the group is estimated to have cost between SFr500,000 and SFr1 million ($285,000 - $570,000).

But the college itself refused to blame either the guide or the organising company, Altamira.

"The first group of students went in with one guide and came out without any problem," said the college's training coordinator, Sylvie Wyss. "And it seems the guide who was there acted very properly otherwise they might not have come out at all.

"We just want to find out what happened and to see if mistakes were made. Then we can decide what happens legally."

She added that it had been said that if more guides had been present then more people might have been trapped.

Dozens of rescue workers took part in the operation to free the eight people. They were located on Friday in one of two cavities known to have air pockets but it took rescue workers until Saturday night to reduce the water levels enough to reach them.

The expedition was part of a course designed to develop team building and help the group face challenges in their future careers.

Following the caving incident, parliament is to debate the issue of imposing tighter controls on risky sports during its summer session.

swissinfo with agencies

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