R50 000 to free stuck woman

2007-01-04 08:32

Oudtshoorn- The rescue operation to extricate a 100kg woman from the 50cm-wide "tunnel of love" in the Cango Caves, where she was stuck for nine hours, could cost taxpayers about R50 000.

Cango Caves manager Hein Gertsner said on Wednesday the total cost of the rescue, which involved relay teams in the humid conditions and even a helicopter, could be anything between R30 000 and R50 000.

Tour guides had to call in rescue teams on New Year's Day when they could not dislodge Veronica Hlabelela, 37, of Durban, from the tight squeeze of the tunnel of love.

She slipped while climbing in, and became firmly wedged, trapping 22 other people, one of them a five-year-old child, behind her.

Hlabelela was warned repeatedly before the tour that she was too big to get through the tunnel.

After the rescue, the three tours on Tuesday were booked out.

Others freed quite easily

People were curious to see exactly where the woman had become stuck, said Gertsner.

He said it was the first time in a century that anyone had become stuck in the love tunnel.

People who got stuck in the "chimney" and the "post box", usually could be freed quite easily.

Gertsner said he would use his prerogative as manager to decide in future who could get a ticket and who could not, if they did not respond to a tour guide's suggestions.

He emphasised that the differentiation could not be prescribed by weight.

"Sturdy rugby players, who weigh more than 100kg and who have broad chests, have sailed through the "tunnel of love".

"It all depends on your body type and your mentality. Sometimes, it's a matter of nervous tension. Many people who are fit enough don't want to tackle it because they become anxious in narrow confines."

Gertsner suggested that a concrete tunnel with a width of the tunnel of love might be built at the ticket office to give prospective customers an idea of what awaited them.

Nicola de Wet, a dietician at George Medi-Clinic said a person's waist or hip measurement could be used to determine if they were suitable for the tunnel or not.

De Wet added that a person's body mass index (BMI) also could indicate whether they would fit through.

Bone structure

She said the BMI, which was used internationally as an indicator of weight and height to calculate body fat, could also be used with a fair degree of accuracy.

"However, BMI does not take into account bone structure and amount of body liquid.?

This was why the BMI of rugby players and weight lifters could be misleading, because of their ratio of muscle to fat.