Rescuers are working around the clock to try to save a 52-year-old man injured in a rock fall in Germany's deepest cave
The caver, identified only as Johann W, is almost one kilometre below the surface, six kilometres from the cave entrance and days away from rescue.
Injuries to his head and chest mean rescuers face the prospect of transporting him horizontally the entire way through "one of the most difficult caves in Europe", complete with steep shafts and narrow tunnels.
Up to 200 people are working to save the man, who was injured on Sunday.
A telephone line has been laid several hundred metres beneath the surface while two teams of rescue climbers are deep within the Riesending cave system near the Austrian border.
On Monday, the first four-person team of climbers found the injured man.
"He is responsive but he's not doing well," a rescue official told German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Another official, Stefan Schneider, said freeing the man from his position deep in the cave system would take several more days.
He warned there were hardly any cavers with the experience to operate at such a depth.
A second team of rescuers, including an Austrian doctor, is making its way towards the injured climber.
It is "one of the most difficult caves in Europe", rescue official Klemens Reindl told the German television channel n-tv.
"We have shafts that go straight down 350 metres, where you have to abseil down and climb back up on a rope," he said.
The cave's entrance was only discovered in 1995.
The injured man is reportedly a member of the team that first explored the system during a 2002 expedition.
He had returned to Riesending on a holiday with two companions, one of whom remained to care for him after the accident while the other made a 12-hour climb to summon help.
The man's protective headgear was not enough to bear the brunt of the falling rocks.
smh.com.au with wires