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Climber winched to safety after 12 days trapped in Alpine cave

An injured caver has been hauled out of the country's deepest cavern by a 700-strong multinational rescue operation after spending nearly two weeks underground.

Johann Westhauser, an experienced caver, had gone into the Riesending cave system in the Alps with two companions to carry out research and measurements.

He was hit in the head during a June 8 rock fall while nearly 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) underground.

After lengthy preparations, rescue teams began the arduous task of hauling him up through a labyrinth of narrow passages and precipitous vertical shafts five days later.

Rescuers brought the 52-year-old the final 180 metres (590 feet) to the surface today and immediately sent him to hospital.

Bavarian mountain rescue chief Norbert Heiland said: "A chapter of Alpine rescue history has been written here over the last 12 days."

He said officials initially doubted whether a rescue was possible. It has become a media event with multi-page spreads in German tabloids.

In all, 728 people from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Croatia participated in the operation, director Klaus Reindl said. "Since the birth of caving, there have been only two incidents of this depth, complexity and difficulty," Italian rescuer Roberto Conti said.

A fit expert could climb from the accident site to the entrance in about 12 hours, but rescuers had to haul Mr Westhauser on a stretcher.

The cave entrance is on a mountainside, 1,800 metres (5,900 feet) above sea level.

Mr Westhauser's condition has been described throughout as stable and Mr Reindl said he "came through the rescue operation well".

Bavaria's top security official said he wants to make sure the highly publicised rescue does not attract "risk tourism".

Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann advocated shutting the cave entrance to ensure it was accessed only by experts.

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