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Hungarian Rescuers Save Cave Explorer

January 31, 2002

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) _ Rescuers drilled deep into a labyrinth of caves Thursday and saved an amateur explorer who survived for six days by clawing his way to an air pocket and taking refuge on a narrow ledge.

Zsolt Szilagyi, 26, was hospitalized with exposure and dehydration after rescuers brought him out through a tunnel they blasted to reach his perch, said Gyoergy Denes, president of the Hungarian Cave Rescue Service.

``He was hanging on like a spider on the wall,″ Denes told The Associated Press.

Szilagyi and several others ventured into the Rakoczi cave complex in northern Hungary on Saturday. When a rope linking Szilagyi to his companions broke, he strayed into a waterlogged downward passage and made his way to the air pocket, where he climbed onto a small ledge.

A search was organized within hours, but rescuers negotiating the maze of subterranean tunnels did not locate Szilagyi until Tuesday. ``It was pure luck that we managed to find him,″ rescuer Gyoergy Kovacs said.

Szilagyi was too weak to swim out through the muddy water of the pitch-dark passage that led to his air pocket, so rescuers used heavy drilling equipment and explosives to blow through 33 feet of rock and reached him from another part of the cave.

As workers blasted a tunnel down to Szilagyi, divers made trips into the cave to bring him food and water.

More than 100 divers joined the rescue effort at the cave complex about 150 miles northeast of Budapest, one of Hungary’s largest. Some of the rescuers were from Slovakia, which lies a few miles to the north.

The drama dominated radio and television newscasts and newspaper headlines in Hungary for days, and residents from the nearby village of Bodvarako brought food to the rescuers and to Szilagyi’s wife and parents.

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