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The BBC's Jon Sopel
"The potholers managed their food supplies very carefully"
 real 28k

The BBC's James Coomarasamy in Paris
"Potholers well enough to climb out by themselves"
 real 28k

Monday, 22 November, 1999, 13:04 GMT
Trapped potholers rescued
One of the potholers (white helmet) comes to the surface

Seven men who had been trapped in underground caves in southern France for 10 days have been brought to the surface.

The first to make it, 22-year-old soldier Nicolas Wioland, was able to walk unaided to a nearby ambulance.

He was reported to be exhausted and grimy but beaming from ear to ear.

Then the six others surfaced at intervals of about 20 minutes.

We're all passionate about our sport and when fellow potholers are trapped it concerns us all
Jean-Francois Godard, cave rescue specialist
"It's an enormous relief, we are extremely happy," rescuer Jean-Francois Godard told French television.

All the potholers were pronounced to be in good health.

Rescuers offered food

Lieutenant Pierre Maisonneuve, spokesman for what has become the biggest rescue mission of its kind in France, praised the group's rationing of light and food provisions.

Huddled in a bivouac above the underground river in flood, they had even kept enough food to offer some to their four rescuers.

All week more than a 150 rescuers had battled against the continuing rain and muddy conditions, drilling three holes to lower sophisticated lighting and listening equipment.

On Sunday afternoon, when almost all hope of finding the potholers alive had been abandoned, their persistence finally paid off.

The water had risen more than halfway up the 40-metre walls of the cave.

The rescuers finally came upon the potholers when four rescuers squeezed down a man-sized hole drilled through the cavern rock and saw two of the men edging towards them.

The trapped men had taken refuge in a big cavern, the Cle de Voute near the town of Gramat, when torrential rains last week caused underground waters to rise, blocking their way out.

"It has been a magnificent operation. The best reward was to be able to give the families the good news," said regional governor Michel Sappin.

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin paid tribute Sunday to the "courage and perseverance of the rescuers."

Thirty people died when heavy rains followed by floods hit south-western France 10 days ago.

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22 Nov 99 |  Europe
In pictures: Europe's cold weather chaos

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