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Seven spelunkers safe after being trapped in flooded Indiana cave

(Reuters) - Seven explorers trapped in a flooded Indiana cave scrambled to safety early Monday morning after being trapped for about 35 hours due to flooding, natural resources officials said on Monday.

The last of the spelunkers emerged at around 3 a.m. local time on Monday from the Binkley Cave System near Corydon, about 135 miles south of Indianapolis, said Indiana Department of Natural Resources spokesman Joe Haywood.

A search-and-rescue team entered the well-known area of the cave where three women and four men were trapped and led them to safety.

They were treated for mild hypothermia, but otherwise were in fine health, Haywood said.

The group, described by Indiana officials as "experienced cavers" with years of cave exploration experience, was due to exit the cave on Sunday morning after a planned 15-hour trip to survey portions of the system. However, their route was blocked by the high water.

"Flooding is not something that was completely unexpected," said Indiana Conservation Officer Jim Hash, who was part of the rescue team. "Portions of that cave during periods of heavy rainfall can be inundated with water, and there was rainfall on the day they entered the cave."

At nearly 44 miles long, Binkley is the longest cave network in Indiana and among the longest in the nation, according to a tourism website devoted to the cave.

Even though the search-and-rescue operation began around 8 a.m. local time on Sunday, the team armed with life vests and body warmers could not enter the cave until around 1 p.m. when water levels had dropped, officials said.

The first two trapped cavers emerged more than eight hours later, and additional rescuers brought the remaining five cavers out around 3 a.m. on Monday.

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By Eric M. Johnson

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