Late on Thursday evening, Spanish cavers in Madrid received an urgent message that one of their most well-known colleagues, 46-year-old Cecilio López, had suffered a fall from a height of five metres inside a cave in north-western Peru and was badly injured 400 metres underground.
Mr. López, an experienced potholer who had participated in several prior archaeological expeditions to Peru's Intimachay chasm, has broken several vertebrae and is unable to climb out himself.
Spanish spelunkers immediately began to coordinate a private international rescue mission to help Mr. López, who has now been trapped underground for seven days, in a cave that is four hours walk from the nearest town.
Ángel San Juan, the chairman of the Madrid Spelunking Federation, told The Spain Report by telephone that the rescue effort depended on mules and helicopters to reach the mouth of the cave, which is 3,000 meters above sea level in the remote north-western region of Chachapoyas.
"The local priest in the nearest town, Leimebamba, walked a cow up the mountain to slaughter and feed the rescue team", said Mr. San Juan.
Cecilio López was taking part in an archaeological expedition "with five scientists" to uncover more information about the remains of the ancient Chachapoyas culture.
Peruvian cavers, firefighters, and soldiers are taking part in the rescue attempt, but they are not experts in this type of cave rescue, he explained, whilst Madrid spelunkers have never carried out the international rescue of one of their trapped colleagues before.
The 47 members of the Spanish cave rescue team have flown out to Peru in stages over the past few days, as a crowdfunded private rescue mission was put together and financed thanks to online donations, private bank accounts and pot holers using their credit cards.
French, Italian, Peruvian and Mexican cavers are also taking part in the rescue operation.
The first team of six Spaniards, including a female doctor and a nurse, left Madrid on Saturday and has now made it all the way down to Mr. López in Peru.
He is in a stable condition, with crushed or cracked vertebrae, although the doctor does not think he has fractured his spinal cord.
Given his injuries, extra special care needs to be taken to bring him out horizontally through a complicated set of underground caves, with inclines and many small underground rocky outcrops that will make his rescue an arduous task.
Mr. López has been given hot food and is being kept warm, in a cave where the temperature is around 10ºC with 100% humidity. Constant rain on the surface also makes the base camp efforts more strenuous.
"If the weather holds out, the rest of the teams will take another day and a half to get up there, and then, if all goes well, another day or so to bring him all the way up. The Peruvian Army has been providing military rations", said Mr. San Juan.
The third group of Spanish rescuers took off from Madrid's Barajas airport this morning.
Spanish Government Criticised For Inaction
Spanish cavers are angry that the Spanish government has done so little to help rescue their colleague.
Whilst the Peruvian government has offered logistical support, soldiers, police and firemen to rescue Mr. López: "We have had no news of any money from the Spanish government", said Mr. San Juan, adding that: "The Civil Guard and the Military Emergencies Unit (UME) can't send their teams until they get diplomatic approval from Madrid. They want to go out there, but they can't without the formal petition. The ministers need to talk to each other".
A spokeswoman for the Spanish Foreign Office—asked why Madrid cavers were having to rely on their private bank accounts and anonymous online donations to rescue a Spanish citizen trapped 400 meters underground on the other side of the world—told The Spain Report by telephone that the Spanish government: "didn't have a budget for rescuing Spaniards who have accidents whilst taking part in private sporting activities abroad".
"The rescue will be over when everyone is back here safe and sound", said Mr. San Juan: "but I don't know who is supposed to charter the aircraft to bring them all back. If we could have a Spanish military aircraft for it, that would be great".
"I have literally been paying for this with my bank account"; he added, saying the rescue effort had so far received more than €17,000 in online donations from supporters.
The spokeswoman for the Spanish Foreign Office said she had "no news" about conversations between the Spanish Foreign Minister, José Manuel García Margallo, and his Peruvian counterpart, Gonzalo Gutiérrez Reinel, over the rescue of Mr. López; about using Spanish military aircraft; or about opening up emergency financing for the rescue group.
A Facebook support group set up to promote Mr. López's rescue posted that: "Whilst the Peruvian government provides food, transport, and resources to rescue Ceci (who is still laid out on a stretcher with two fractured vertebrae after nearly 7 days), the Spanish government isn't doing anything".
"If this were a priest, or a nun, there would be support and this would already have been sorted out. Shameful. Either everybody or no one", wrote one commenter.
The Foreign Office spokeswoman refused to comment on why the Spanish government rushed to rescue and repatriate two religious volunteers infected with Ebola from West Africa but is not providing any financial or logistical support to rescue a Spanish caver on a scientific expedition in Peru.
Mr. San Juan said that "obviously" his federation would like to see the same response from the Spanish Foreign Ministry to help Cecilio López as that received by the two Spanish priests in West Africa: "We can't stop people making the comparison", he said.
Spanish cavers have opened a blog to coordinate their private rescue mission, and a Change.org petition to demand Spanish government support has been signed by 23,000 people.
(UPDATE 1, 30/09/2014, 9:55 p.m.): In a brief note posted on their blog, the Madrid Spelunking Federation said Mr. López had now been rescued and brought to the surface.
"Throughout today, the installation in the cavity has been finished and Ceci has been moving up from -150m to the surface, where he arrived a few minutes ago."
"He hasn't seen the sun for 12 days. He will be moved to the helicopter when the weather conditions allow."