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Spanish experts in Morocco to aid rescue of cavers

Emergency services were struggling Sunday to rescue two Spanish cavers from the bottom of a deep ravine in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains, a day after a third was reported dead.

Morocco’s news agency MAP said a unit of Spanish rescue experts was due in Ouarzazate Sunday to help with the operation to extract them.

The trio were part of a group of nine Spaniards who had split up last Sunday to explore different caves and were later due to meet up in Ouarzazate in southern Morocco.

But by Tuesday the three failed to show up as planned, triggering concern among their fellow cavers who then raised the alert.

On Saturday morning the three were located alive by search teams in the commune of Tarmest, and the Moroccan Royal Gendarmerie and Civil Protection scrambled to rescue them.

That evening, officials in Ouarzazate said one of the men had died but that the other two “injured” and had received first aid ahead of their evacuation.

No details were given as to how this aid was administered.

Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Dias confirmed the man’s death in a tweet on Sunday, saying: “My condolences to the family of Gustavo Virues and his companions.”

Spanish media had earlier identified the three as Virues, a lawyer, and policemen Juan Bolivar and Jose Antonio Martinez.

On Sunday, a helicopter and an ambulance were on standby at Ouarzazate airport after the aircraft made a flight to deliver first aid and supplies, an AFP photographer said.

The helicopter and ambulance were ready to evacuate the body of Virues and take his colleagues to hospital, once they have been rescued.

The cavers are trapped at the bottom of a 400-metre-deep (1,320-foot) ravine in an area where access is difficult and a helicopter cannot land.

Rescuers are having to make their way on foot to reach the site.

Heavy fog on Saturday hindered the rescue operation, officials said, adding that the trio had not been accompanied by professional guides.

The area the cavers were exploring is rugged terrain which includes peaks of around 4,000 metres still covered with snow from a heavy winter.

Experts have said a rise in temperature in recent days could have caused a flash flood that trapped the cavers.

Ouarzazate lies to the south of the High Atlas range on the edge of the Sahara desert, about 510 kilometres (320 miles) by road from the capital Rabat.