Rescuing Johann Westhauser

2014-1110 Rescue of Johann Westhauser
After surviving a traumatic brain injury and being trapped underground for more than a week, Johann Westhauser — pictured in a fiberglass stretcher — saw sunlight again thanks to the help of several hundred volunteers.

Years prior to my diagnosis, I worked as a purchasing manager and volunteered with a  cave/cliff rescue team. I was not the fastest climber on the team or the team member with the most experience, but I enjoyed helping how I could. Thankfully, my employer allowed me to leave immediately whenever a cave rescue was required.

Although the story is several months old, and I did not participate in the rescue described in the story, I wanted to let people know there are times when getting to the local hospital after an accident is not always a simple process.

Johann Westhauser was badly injured and suffered a traumatic head injury in a rock fall while exploring the Riesending complex (see map below), which is the deepest known cave in Germany. According to an article written by Justin Huggler, to reach the surface rescuers must carry Westhauser through “a dizzying series of tunnels and shafts, before he sees the daylight again.”

2014-1120 Map of Area

Westhauser, who could not safely get out of the cave on his own after the rock slide, waited in the icy cave beneath the Bavarian Alps while doctors struggled to reach him and assess his condition.  Huggler tells us, “A team of 14 rescuers accompanied by a doctor must carry Westhauser on a stretcher more than 5km [3.11 miles] underground. They must cross underground lakes, climb 300m [984.25 foot] vertical shafts by rope, fight their way past underground waterfalls and squeeze through thin slots. Along the way, they will face near freezing temperatures [3C = 37.4F], cave winds, and a constant danger of flooding.”

A doctor travelling with the rescue team is carrying a skull drill in case he has to relieve the pressure in Westhauser’s skull.

An article by BBC New Europe informed it’s readers that “Mountain rescue service chief Klemens Reindl, who supervised the operation, said 728 people from five countries had taken part.” According to Reindl, “It was one of the most difficult rescue operations in the history of the mountain rescue service,” he said.

2014-1110 Airlifted to Hospital

Click here to read another Beyond Injury post.


Thanks to BBC News Europe for providing the pictures I used and text I referenced; Justin Huggler and the Daily Telegraph for providing information I referenced; Google for helping me find the article; and all the other people who, directly or indirectly made it possible for me to include the pictures and text in this post.

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