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6 British Explorers Rescued in Mexico - 2004-03-26

Mexican and British underwater specialists have rescued six British explorers, who were trapped in an underground cave in Mexico for a week. Mexico is demanding an explanation from the British government about the activities of the explorers.

The six explorers, five of whom are members of the British armed forces, are part of a group of 13 from the Combined Services Caving Association. They were on an expedition trip in the Cueva Alpzat cave system in the state of Puebla, about 300 kilometers northeast of Mexico City.

They were trapped last week, after the level of water in the underground caves rose, cutting them off, due to heavy rains. The explorers said they were never in danger, as they were able to move to a dry section in the cave.

A spokesman in the Public Relations Department of the British Embassy in Mexico City says the rescue divers went through a decompression phase after the first rescue, before going back to get the others.

The incident has sparked a diplomatic dispute, because the team entered Mexico on tourist visas. Mexican President Vicente Fox is asking for an explanation of what the British soldiers were doing.

Mexico's assistant interior secretary, Armando Salinas, said late Thursday the explorers would be given a medical examination and then turned over to immigration authorities for questioning. Local Mexican media speculated the men were searching for mineral deposits. Members of the British team say they were only on a cave exploring expedition.

Mexican officials say such trips by foreigners require special permission from the Mexican government.