Morocco launches rescue operation for Spanish cavers
RABAT - Moroccan emergency services launched a rescue operation for three Spanish cavers Saturday found alive by search teams in the High Atlas mountains, an official said.
The trio were found at the bottom of a cliff in the commune of Tamest in the southern Ouarzazate region, Morocco's MAP news agency reported.
The men were identified as lawyer Gustavo Virues, aged 26, and policemen Juan Bolivar and Jose Antonio Martinez, both 41.
Martinez's wife, Julia Ordonez, said one of them was hurt, but could not provide details.
"What we know is that one of them is in need of medical help because the other two were moving and signalling for help when a helicopter passed overhead," Ordonez told Spanish state television TVE.
Zoubir Bouhour, head of the Ouarzazate regional tourism organisation, said earlier that "helicopters and elements of the civil defence were participating in the rescue effort."
The area they had been exploring includes peaks of around 4,000 metres (13,125 feet) that have been covered with snow from a heavy winter, and been subjected to a sudden rise in temperatures in recent days.
The three caving enthusiasts had been missing for several days and fears that they could have been caught up in flash floods caused by melting snow had prompted intensive air and ground searches.
They were part of a group of nine Spaniards who had split up on Sunday to explore different caves.
They were supposed to have met up in Ouarzazate, and when the three failed to do so by Tuesday afternoon their fellow cavers alerted the authorities.
Ordonez said "they are not backpackers; they are prepared and have training and a great deal of experience, both in mountain climbing and caving" in the Alps and the Andes.
"If they didn't go to the meeting place it is because they are in trouble."
On Friday, one of their companions told Spanish radio Canal Sur the men may have been caught in a canyon by a flash flood caused by melting snow.
"We hope they are on a (rock) shelf waiting for the water levels to drop," Jose Morillas said.
Ouarzazate lies to the south of the mountain range on the edge of the desert, about 510 kilometres (320 miles) by road from the capital Rabat.