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Morocco criticized over delay in rescuing cavers

AFP · 7 Apr 2015, 08:33

Published: 07 Apr 2015 08:33 GMT+02:00

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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.

Originally part of a team of nine, the three men -- all experienced climbers -- split off from the others.

Their companions alerted authorities on Tuesday when they failed to arrive at the rendezvous point but they were only spotted alive on Saturday morning by Moroccan search teams in the commune of Tarmest, with heavy fog hindering the rescue, officials said.

The three men were members of the Mountaineering Federation of Andalusia, which accused Morocco of being slow to launch a rescue mission and delaying accepting a rescue mission organised by the other members of the group who were in the area.

"Unfortunately the outcome was tragic with two dead due to the delay in the rescue," the president of the federation, Julio Perea, told AFP.

"The Moroccan police did not authorise that we rescue our climbers. We are very pained by this regrettable incident."

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 to the depths of a 400-metre (1,320-foot) ravine in an area extremely difficult to reach.

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.

"My condolences to the family and friends of Jose Antonio Martinez, a chief police inspector who died in Morocco," the ministry said in a message on Twitter signed by Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz.

   - 'Needed rope' -

"If on the day that we sounded the alarm a helicopter had flown over the region, they 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 length," he told the newspaper, referring to the Moroccan authorities.

Story continues below…

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.

"The government, as soon as we learned of the events, made a rescue team available to the Moroccan authorities," Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told public radio RNE, without specifying how long Rabat took to respond to this offer of help.

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