SEVEN potholers stuck down a cave in the French Pyrénées for a whole day and night have been rescued unharmed.
Six men and one woman, aged between 30 and 50, were part of a tour group of 15 in the Herran area in the border zone when a huge rockfall left them trapped 180 metres below the surface.
The council, or prefecture of the southern French department of Haute-Garonne says eight of them managed to escape on foot – tired, but uninjured – and raised the alarm.
French rescue workers were highly praised by the Spanish climbers, who belong to different amateur potholing associations but are very experienced in their sport.
Emergency services, as soon as they managed to get down low enough to reach the group through a hole in the rocks, passed them food while they waited for back-up.
All seven of them are said to be 'safe and sound', according to the association chairman Bernard Tourte, who managed to make contact with them at 09.00hrs French and Spanish mainland time – around four hours after the first eight succeeded in escaping and calling for help.
They first became stuck in the grotto in the early hours of Wednesday morning after a rocky wall collapsed inside the cave in the Pyrénées directly due south of Toulouse.
The water level rose sharply due to torrential rainfall and high winds battering southern France and northern Spain, leaving the potholers fearing they would drown underground.
It took 18 hours for the eight climbers to get out, since the group had split in two and entered via two different points.