Sydney: Three young men stuck in a crevasse on Australian tourist attraction Uluru, the world’s largest monolith, were lowered to safety in a difficult, late-night rescue operation, authorities said on Tuesday.
Rescuers battled strong winds and abseiled 320 metres to reach the stranded Australians, all aged 22, after they wandered off a well-worn path while climbing the iconic symbol of the Outback, also known as Ayers Rock, on Monday.
The men climbed down steep slopes towards the bottom of the giant red rock but then got stuck, Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services spokeswoman Nicole Ogilvie said.
“They were lucky there were no injuries,” Ogilvie said, adding that a Taiwanese tourist was badly injured last year after falling into a narrow gap when he left the official route.
“You just don’t know how bad it can get when you actually veer off the path.”
Rescue workers were flown by helicopter to the top of Uluru to start the complex process of extracting the trio after police confirmed they were uninjured and had enough water.
“Due to the fading light and lack of anchors, the rescue effort was slow and methodical,” emergency service volunteer Alan Leahy said in a statement.
“We abseiled about 320 metres to the stranded men. There were very strong winds that kept on tangling the rope,” Leahy added.
Rescue workers reached the men about 11.30pm (1400 GMT on Monday) and moved them one at a time to the base of the rock, a process that took several hours.
The seven rescuers only had head torches to guide them to the men as darkness fell, the emergency service’s southern regional manager Claire Barker said.
“Where they were situated was very steep and we couldn’t get them to climb up from where they were, they were actually stuck,” Barker told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“So our guys had to start from the top of the rock to where they were and pluck them off, now while that sounds very easy, it’s actually very arduous and very difficult.”
Uluru — a giant red rock that rises 348 metres above the desert and which has a circumference of 9.4 kilometres at its base — is surrounded by thousands of square kilometres of desolate Outback in central Australia.
It forms a key part of Aboriginal creation mythology and is also a World Heritage site.
Climbing the rock is seen by many tourists as a must-do on their visit to Australia. But they do so against the wishes of traditional Aboriginal owners the Anangu, to whom the site is sacred.
Tackling Uluru’s sandstone slopes is not an easy exercise and there have been several deaths on the rock over the years. More than 250,000 people visit Uluru each year, according to government agency Parks Australia.