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Big woman in tight passage blocks cave

Published Jan 2, 2007


Rescuers battled for ten hours at the Cango Caves near Oudtshoorn to free an overweight woman who became stuck in a narrow passage, trapping 23 other tourists in the caves.

"We were back in operation this morning (Tuesday)," said Hein Gerstner, manager of the Cango Caves.

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There was no damage to the caves as no drilling or cutting was needed to rescue the woman who got stuck on Monday.

"There was permission granted to drill or to cut rock in a worse case scenario. Look, it would have been a last resort."

Gerstner said the woman was eventually freed using rock climbing equipment and liquid paraffin.

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The woman slipped and fell and ended up wedged tight. "Her leg had folded under her and she could not stand up. If she had landed straight up on both legs there would have not been any trouble."

Twenty-three other people were trapped, unable to get past the stuck woman.

Gerstner said staff were used to people getting stuck at the Cango Caves.

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"We believe what goes in, must come out again. People get stuck all the time - that's one of the unfortunate things that happen, it's part of the adventure."

The woman had been warned she was not suited for the route.

"She was told at the ticket office that she was too big to take part in the specific section. (But) her husband insisted she should take part in the adventure."

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Gerstner said the guide also told the woman, when she reached the tunnels, that she should reconsider.

"The woman was extremely offended because she felt she was offended in person and laid a charge at management.

"But, she was too big. We will have to be a lot more stringent with people - to adhere to the criteria of difficulty of the routes," Gerstner said on Tuesday.

However, visitors became annoyed if stopped from entering the caves.

Monday's rescue operation involved a private ambulance service, the ambulance teams of Oudtshoorn and George, as well as a rescue helicopter carrying a rescue co-ordinator.

It was an expensive exercise, Gerstner said. - Sapa

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