After one of the most challenging cave rescues ever to take place, an injured German man has been brought out of the country's deepest cave alive. Johann Westhauser, a 52-year-old physicist and cave researcher, was badly hurt in a rock fall almost 4,000 feet below the surface, and it took hundreds of rescuers 12 days to get him out through a rock labyrinth full of deep shafts and narrow passages, the BBC reports. Two doctors helped bring him to the surface and he was airlifted to hospital with head and chest injuries.
As he was brought to the surface, Westhauser said his only wish was to personally thank all 728 people involved in the rescue operation, reports the New York Times. "It will keep me busy," he quipped. Westhauser remained conscious throughout the rescue and rescuers praised his "incredible mental strength." The operation brought together rescue workers from five countries, many of whom are cavers themselves. "For years, our solidarity has grown," says a member of the Italian National Society of Alpine Speleology. "We have worked together and gotten to know each other. Today, we have the proof that this is the right way to work."