Morocco rescue effort criticised in Spain after two cavers die

6th April 2015, Comments 0 comments

Family and friends of two Spanish cavers who died after being trapped for days in a deep ravine in Morocco criticised Rabat on Monday over the rescue effort, while the sole survivor was said to be in good condition.

The survivor, policeman Juan Bolivar, 27, was evacuated from the scene of the accident in the High Atlas mountains by police on Sunday night on a stretcher with his eyes closed and legs bandaged, then taken to a hospital in Ouarzazate in southern Morocco.

"He has been examined by a multi-disciplinary team of specialists, and his state of health is good," regional health ministry official Dr Khalid Salmi told AFP on Monday.

The bodies of his two companions have not yet been recovered from the depths of the 400-metre (1,320-foot) ravine in an area extremely difficult to reach.

Fellow cavers raised the alarm on Tuesday after the trio failed to meet up with them in Ouarzazate but they were only spotted alive on Saturday morning by Moroccan search teams, with heavy fog hindering the rescue, officials said.

Spanish public television station TVE, quoting Moroccan rescue workers, said one of the three had possibly slipped on a patch of ice, dragging the other two down with him as he fell.

As rescue workers scrambled to reach the trio, Moroccan officials said late Saturday that one of the men -- 41-year-old lawyer Gustavo Virues -- had died.

Spain's interior ministry announced late on Sunday that a second man, policeman Jose Antonio Martinez, 41, had also died while awaiting rescue.

"If on the day that we sounded the alarm a helicopter had flown over the region, the deceased would not be dead," one of the cavers whom the trio was going to meet up with, Juan Rangel, said in an interview published in Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

After the three went missing, "in 48 hours we rented cars to reach the ravine, hired a guide, and were the first to arrive" at the scene, he added without specifying on what day they reached the accident site.

Several cavers tried to reach the spot where the three Spaniards were as Moroccan rescue teams were still not there, he told another Spanish newspaper, ABC.

"They called us the next day saying they needed a rope of at least 200 metres in lenth," he told the newspaper, referring to the Moroccan authorities.

- 'Goodwill' -

Julia Ordonez, the wife of Martinez, one of the two cavers who died, said she could not understand why Moroccan authorities did not allow Spain to send the material they needed to carry out the rescue mission sooner.

"If they had been provided with the material they needed, it was nothing out of this world, ropes, nails, pulleys...they would have reached them easily," she told Canal Sur Radio.

Another member of the team of cavers, Jose Morillas, was even more critical.

"The Spanish and Moroccan government killed Jose Antonio," he told the radio station.

Spain's government offered on Friday to send a team of rescuers to Morocco but they were only allowed to travel to the scene on Sunday.

Moroccan authorities "made a great effort and put in place all their know-how and understanding", Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Monday during an interview with Spanish public radio when asked about the controversy.

"What stands out for me today is the goodwill and the desire to cooperate," he said.

"The government, as soon as we learned of the events, made a rescue team available to the Moroccan authorities," he added without specifying how long Rabat took to respond to this offer of help.

The area the three were exploring is rugged terrain that includes peaks of around 4,000 metres (more than 13,000 feet) still covered with snow from winter.

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.

© 2015 AFP

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