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Spelunker Hurt in Fall Makes Slow Progress From Cave : Rescue: She praises those helping her through treacherous passages. It will be Thursday or Friday before she reaches surface.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A veteran cave explorer who suffered a broken leg far inside the nation’s deepest cave praised her rescue team Tuesday as the “hottest on the surface of the earth.”

“We said that wasn’t quite correct,” said Rick Bridges, head of the Lechuguilla Cave Project. “She has the hottest team under the surface of the earth.”

Emily Mobley, 40, assisted as best she could as rescuers continued to maneuver her out of the Lechuguilla Cave in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, easing over huge boulders, past deep drop-offs and through tight passageways toward the entrance.

The rescuers succeeded in lifting her past one of the highest hurdles Tuesday afternoon--a 240-foot litter-borne ascent up a sheer rock face called the Great White Way, Park Ranger Jeff Denny said. The giant step placed her nearly halfway to open air--within 1 1/4 miles of the cave entrance, he said.

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Mobley and four companions were surveying a portion of the cave Sunday when a large rock she was using as a handhold came loose. She fell backward about 12 feet and the rock landed on her left leg and broke it.

More than 130 rescuers and support personnel, including Mobley’s colleagues from the Lechuguilla Cave Project, were assisting in the evacuation.

“This will be one of the deepest and most complex cave rescues ever performed in the United States,” Bridges said.

Bridges, who spoke with Mobley via a telephone line that was threaded through the cave Monday, said she was in good spirits.

Those familiar with the cave say it is a labyrinth of twisting passages opening into chambers littered with huge boulders. The rescuers are working in 70-degree temperatures and near 100% humidity.

The rescue was expected to take until late Thursday or early Friday, according to Bridges.

He said the most difficult part of the rescue is still ahead as the group has to cross an area called the Rift.

“The Rift is a relatively level passage. The problem is it has big holes in the floor and we have to get her across those holes,” Bridges said. “Normally we scurry around them on small ledges.”

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Mobley, who was strapped to a special cave-rescue litter and receiving nourishment and painkillers, has been attended throughout her ordeal by Dr. Steve Mossberg, a member of her caving party.

Mobley, of Schoharie, N.Y., has made two other descents into the cave since it was discovered in 1986. She and her party were part of a larger group of cavers conducting an extensive survey project over the weekend, according to Bridges.

Team member Bob Addis of Parkersburg, W. Va., said the accident occurred just after the team had finished its work in a small pit off a large chamber known as the Reason Room. Mobley was working her way back up an incline and was using a rock she had tested in her descent when it broke free, Addis said.

The rock glanced off her forearm and smashed into her leg a few inches below her knee, he said. Mobley’s companions called out to her, and at first she answered that she was OK.

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“Then, she said, ‘Uh, oh, I think something is broken,’ ” Addis said.

Mobley’s companions hoisted her to a level resting place where Mossberg splinted her broken leg while others began the long climb out for help.

While waiting for rescuers to arrive, the team members turned off the carbide lamps in their caving helmets to conserve batteries and used a single candle to light the chamber, Addis said.

“She’s a very gutsy woman,” said Addis, who has known Mobley for 20 years.

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The Lechuguilla Cave, measured at 1,565 feet in depth and more than 55 miles long, is the nation’s deepest and fourth-largest cave. It lies about four miles northwest of the famed Carlsbad Caverns but is not open to the public because of the fragility of its gypsum formations.

Cave expert Donald Davis said the rescuers may have to cut some environmental corners in order to get Mobley out of the cave.

“The rescue is definitely going to have an adverse impact on the cave,” he said.


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