Connect to share and comment
Doctors treating a German cave explorer, who was dramatically rescued after 11 days trapped and injured deep below ground, said Friday that he was in "excellent condition" given his ordeal.
Johann Westhauser, 52, warmly thanked his rescuers in a video message from his hospital bed in southern Germany where he was airlifted Thursday after being painstakingly hauled to safety in an effort by more than 700 rescuers.
"I'd like to give my heartfelt thanks to all the comrades who were involved in the cave rescue. It was a very big mission.
"I'm actually really fine," he said, adding he still had a speech problem which would resolve itself in time.
Medical director of the clinic in the Bavarian town of Murnau, Volker Buehren, told reporters they expected Westhauser to widely recover from the head injuries suffered in a June 8 rockfall, calling it a "small miracle".
Doctors said his injuries had affected his motor skills as a result of swelling.
"That will markedly improve with time," Buehren said, adding Westhauser was able to formulate complicated sentences.
"He also knew it's the football World Cup," the doctor said, adding however that the caver wasn't interested in the matches themselves.
"He didn't want to know the results," Buehren said.
His recovery and rehabilitation is expected to take from three to six months.
Westhauser, who works in the applied physics department of the Technology Institute of Karlsruhe, was visited by his family for three hours on Thursday.
The accident happened 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) below ground in the labyrinth-like Riesending cave complex, Germany's deepest and longest.
The subterranean rescue operation, which began last Friday and saw Westhauser winched on a stretcher, involved rest periods at five bivouac stops, followed by a series of vertical shafts as long as 180 metres leading to the mouth of the cave.
His rescuers battled dangerous conditions, near-freezing temperatures and poor communications for almost a week as they methodically negotiated a treacherous network of tunnels and chambers, underground lakes and ice-cold waterfalls.
Westhauser had been exploring the cave with two others when the accident happened, and one of his companions travelled around 12 hours back to the surface to raise the alarm while the third person stayed behind.
The cave system is more than 19 kilometres (12 miles) long and up to 1,150 metres deep and was not mapped until 2002.