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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 March, 2004, 03:33 GMT 04:33 UK
Mexico expels British potholers
Freed cavers head to the airport
Thirteen UK cavers held in Mexico are flying home after being expelled for visa offences.

They had been held over alleged visa breaches for three days, after six of them were trapped for days underground.

After their release, the men - four of whom are servicemen - were escorted to the airport by two police trucks with dozens of armed guards.

They left the country at 0425 BST and are due to touch down in the UK on Tuesday afternoon.

According to sources, the mood of the team as they finally left captivity to start their journey home was jovial.

Sergeant John Roe, RAF
Warrant officer Charles Milton, Royal Navy
Sergeant Chris Mitchell, Royal Navy
Captain Toby Hamnett, Army
Jonathan Sims, retired Army major
Simon Cornhill, civilian
As it sped off, the convoy was surrounded by members of the press on motorcycles trying to get images of the group.

The Mexican authorities decided that the men had violated their tourist visas by being on a military training expedition.

Armando Salinas, Mexico's Assistant Interior Secretary, said the men were being expelled because they failed to reveal the real nature of their trip.

While stating they were in Mexico as tourists, they "carried out activities of exploration, scientific study and training", Mr Salinas said.

Mexico had demanded a full explanation of what the men were doing in the country, with some officials suspecting them of searching for uranium in the caves.

Expulsion from Mexico means the men would not be allowed to return for a number of years.

Fox unhappy

Six members of the team were trapped inside a cave by floodwaters for nine days near Puebla, about 150 kilometres (90 miles) east of the capital.

They declined local offers of rescue, instead preferring to wait for two specialist British divers who flew to Mexico to escort them out. They were finally rescued on Thursday.

All the cavers were immediately arrested on suspicion of violating their tourist visas by carrying out a mapping exercise.

The men have always insisted they had done nothing wrong.

Team member Jonathan Sims, 41, said they had been detained because of "bureaucratic incompetence and inefficiency".

Mexico's President Vicente Fox intervened in the affair, saying he was unhappy with explanations for their activity in the caves

The men were members of a 13-strong team from the Combined Services Caving Association (CSCA), and four are serving in the British military.

The BBC's David Willis
"The group is simply enormously relieved to be finally heading back to Britain"

Trapped cavers hoping to fly home
29 Mar 04  |  Americas
Mexico drops cavers uranium probe
28 Mar 04  |  Americas
British cavers rescued in Mexico
25 Mar 04  |  Americas
Britons trapped in Mexican cave
23 Mar 04  |  Americas
UK cavers prompt diplomatic row
25 Mar 04  |  Americas

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