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Medics happy with caver's condition

Doctors say they are satisfied with the condition of a cave researcher hauled out of Germany's deepest cavern after sustaining head injuries, although he will need a few months to recover fully.

Johann Westhauser was flown to Murnau Trauma Centre after his rescue from the Riesending cave yesterday, nearly two weeks after being hit by a falling rock.

Doctors said the 52-year-old sustained skull and eye socket fractures, and some internal bleeding.

In a video shown at a news conference, he appeared to have some difficulty speaking but the hospital said he will not need neurological surgery.

Medical director Volker Buehren said Mr Westhauser will stay two to four weeks at the clinic, then will need further therapy, with the healing process lasting three to six months.

A 700-strong multinational rescue operation was launched after he was injured by a rock fall more than 3,200ft underground on June 8.

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.

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

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, 5,900ft above sea level.

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