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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 March, 2004, 22:42 GMT
British cavers rescued in Mexico
Cavers stand in the entrance to the Alpazat Cave complex, courtesy Combined Services Caving Association
Scuba divers are bringing the men to the surface one-by-one
Specialist divers have helped to safety six British men trapped by flooding in a Mexican cave.

The men, who had been in the Cuetzalan caves for more than a week, were said to be in good spirits and to have suffered no major health problems.

They were being brought out one by one. The remaining two were taken out as light started to fade on Thursday.

Earlier Mexican President Vicente Fox asked the UK to explain what the men, five of them soldiers, had been doing.

The British Ministry of Defence said it was a sporting, not a military, trip but some Mexican press reports suggested the six were searching for raw materials for making nuclear weapons.

The six men on the expedition, named Cuetzalan Tiger, were part of a 13-strong group from the Combined Services Caving Association.

One of the rescued men was said to have joked that he wanted to go back to the cave to resume exploring as soon as possible.

Mexican emergency workers said they would give the cavers a swift medical examination at the scene, before transferring them to a military hospital near the central Mexican city of Puebla.

The expedition, which began last Monday, was due to last 36 hours but the group got stuck after heavy rains raised the water level in the cave.

We are asking the British government to tell us whether these people are military personnel, and if they are, what they are doing there
Vicente Fox
Mexican president

The men refused local offers of rescue, instead preferring to wait for two specialist British divers who flew to Mexico to escort them out.

The journey to bring each caver through the murky floodwater has been taking about 45 minutes each way.

The BBC correspondent at the scene, Claire Marshall, said: "There's not been any rain for the last two days and that ... has made conditions a lot easier for the rescue," she said.

She said reports of resentment of the spurning of local offers of help had been "blown out of proportion", and that Mexican specialists had helped with the rescue effort.

'Love of caving'

The six men have not been officially named, but the brother of one of them, Chris Mitchell, told BBC News Online on Wednesday he was "concerned" about his sibling.

But Phil Mitchell, 43, a finance director in Palma de Mallorca in Spain, added: "Chris is very well trained and will have been fully prepared for this type of event."

Map of Mexico
The six men are trapped by floodwaters near Puebla city

As the diplomatic spat continued, a spokeswoman at Mexico's embassy said the ambassador met British Foreign Office officials. She did not reveal the outcome.

Paz Vale, the expedition's technical consultant, said there was nothing sinister about the trip.

He told BBC News Online: "All of them are there in a civilian capacity simply fulfilling their love of caving and desire to visit and understand the unknown."

They were said to be in good spirits throughout their ordeal, with plenty of food and water purifiers, and sleeping bags to keep warm.

They kept in touch with the rest of their team via a hi-tech "mole" phone, and passed the time by playing cards made from a torn-up log-book, and bathing.

The Cueva Alpazat cave complex spans about 8.5 miles near the town of Cuetzalan in central Puebla state.

The BBC's David Willis
"Mexican immigration officials are waiting to question the men once they've been brought out"

Trapped cavers reject criticism
25 Mar 04  |  Americas
UK cavers prompt diplomatic row
25 Mar 04  |  Americas
Britons trapped in Mexican cave
23 Mar 04  |  Americas

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