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Cave explorer found dead after dramatic eight-day search

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-10-12

An experienced French cave explorer on a mission to map an underground tunnel complex has been found dead at the end of a dramatic eight-day rescue operation.

An experienced potholer has been found dead underground in southern France eight days after he went missing.

Cave explorer Eric Establie, 45, who was on a mission to map the Ardeche Gorges underground tunnel complex, was found at the end of a dramatic rescue operation on Monday.

British rescue divers John Volanthen and Rick Stanton, called in from Wales, found his body 780 metres from the mouth of the cave and 70 metres beyond a rock fall that had blocked his exit.

Throughout the rescue operation hopes had remained alive that Mr Establie, a world caving expert and professional deep sea diver who owned a specialised underwater engineering business, would be found alive.

On Saturday the divers said they heard a tapping noise, adding impetus to the ultimately doomed rescue operation.

Experts said his life expectancy underground would have been approximately 15 days, considering the abundance of water, if he had sufficient air to breathe.

But late on Monday the British divers found his drowned body beyond the rock fall.

“We did everything we could,” Gerard Guedefli of French caving rescue services Speleo Secours Francais (SSF) told reporters. “But it has finished badly and we are deeply disappointed.”

Establie had worked as a volunteer rescue diver for SSF for four years, and last year himself recovered a dead caver from underground.


Sunday October 3
Eric Establie goes underground near the source of the River Dragoniere at Labastide-de-Virac on a survey mission to map the caves.

Monday October 4
There is no contact from Establie; rescuers are concerned that if he is trapped in an air pocket he would only have 24 hours to live.

Tuesday October 5
British rescue divers find Establie’s underwater propulsion system under a rock fall some 781 metres from the mouth of the cave. They said they believed theyway it was left hinted that he had gone to take refuge in a drier area.

Wednesday October 6
Authorities begin to bore a sink hole from the surface towards a gallery beyond the rock fall. Experts give the experienced caver 15 days’ life expectancy if he has sufficient air.

Thursday October 7
Rescuers are optimistic because the excavation appears to connect with the gallery.

Friday October 8
The sink hole reaches a depth of 20 metres.

Saturday October 9
The two British rescue experts equipped with an avalanche probe and an electromagnetic detector explore the rock fall for signs of Establie's body.

In a breakthrough they say they hear knocking sounds raising hopes that Establie is still alive.

Sunday October 10
Two Swiss divers leave sealed cases of food and oxygen near the rubble in the hope that Etablie will be able to access them. No sign of life is detected.

Monday October 11
The two British divers find Establie’s drowned body some 70 metres from the rock fall that had cut him off.

Date created : 2010-10-12