CANTABRIAN CAVERS

Lost group were on the right path after all

Search parties did not enter caves until 6pm, after cavers were reported missing in the morning

Four cavers who were rescued on Tuesday after four days stuck in the Mortillano cave system in Cantabria have spoken about their experiences.

Joaquín Gómez (32), Isabel Carrillo (33) and Bruno Martínez (49), had gone caving with Alfonso Gutiérrez, the president of the Minas Caving Group, on Saturday morning. Underground, they became disorientated, and were not sure if the route they were on would lead them out, or deeper into the 130km cave system. Following caving wisdom, they decided not to gamble by choosing a route, instead building a shelter and waiting to be rescued. They were able to find water and rationed their remaining food.

Later, thinking that rescue was less and less likely, they split up. Carrillo and Martínez, who felt weaker, stayed in the shelter while the other two continued following the path they had been on, and discovered that they had actually been going the right way.

Manuel Fernández from Guadalajara Abyss Club raised the alarm on Sunday morning, after the four had missed a planned dinner on Saturday night. It was not until 6pm on Sunday that the Civil Guard's mountain rescue team (GREIM) entered the caves. Fernández says that Sunday was "a lost day." On Monday the three rescue teams were not able to reach the end of their routes and left the caves the way they went in.

On Tuesday morning the GREIM groups returned. One group, together with some volunteers from Esocan Cave Rescue Group, entered through the Rubicera cave. They found Joaquín Gómez and Alfonso Gutiérrez an hour-and-a-half from the exit. Carrillo and Martínez were found at 1am on Wednesday. One rescuer praised the cavers' strength, saying: "They were very doing very well considering the time that they had been in there. I would have had to be carried out on a stretcher."

"They are well-prepared people. They made a camp and came out practically on their own two feet," said Manuel Fernández.

Martín González, from Esocan said: "The Civil Guard agents are disciplined, strong and competent, but they don't know the area."

"If we had gone in on Sunday night, this would already be resolved," González commented before the cavers were found.

Alfonso Gutiérrez claimed the four were sure that they would be rescued, but did not understand why it took so long.