CAPE TOWN, South Africa Nov. 23, 2013— -- It was a daring rescue involving seven first responders and a rig suspended over the deepest hand-dug pit in the world, an open-pit diamond mine in Kimberley, South Africa.
At the bottom was their treasure: not precious gems, but a little brown Labrador the public has nicknamed "Underdog."
Underdog captured the heart of rescuers after he miraculously survived the monumental fall, tumbling the equivalent of 50 stories deep into the mine several days ago. It's unclear how the dog fell into the Big Hole, as it is known in South Africa's Northern Cape province, but tourists spotted the animal on Thursday.
From such a distance observers initially thought he must be a meerkat. But then came the realization it was a lonely little dog that wouldn't survive on his own down there.
"He must have been extremely hungry and tired," says Mario van der Westhuizen, from The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Further endangering Underdog's life, the bottom of the pit was filled with water. He was swimming around and then found a rock ledge to rest on.
"Luckily the water isn't poisonous," says van der Westhuizen. Instead it provided the pup with needed hydration.
The rescue would be a challenge. As night fell it was considered too dangerous for emergency services personnel. So instead they made plans to begin "Operation Underdog" Saturday morning.
At daybreak today, a team of paramedics and police search and rescue officials rappelled down the open mine, an operation that took five hours.
"Initially, when [Officer] Seeley reached the dog, it tried to get away from him," said Albert Hensburg, the spokesperson for ER24, the emergency service company in charge of the rescue. "But he kept on talking to the animal and eventually calmed it down enough to slip the harness over its body."
Underdog has been taken to the local vet for a thorough check-up. Hensburg says the animal's condition is surprisingly good, "Considering what it has been through, the dog does not show any signs of dehydration or starvation, nor did we see any injuries."
The dog, which didn't have any signs of an owner, is now up for adoption, but he won't be homeless for long. There is no shortage of people who watched Underdog's rescue who are willing to bring him into their home and several of the team members responsible for saving him have indicated their eagerness to give him a permanent home--and a permanent name.
Hensburg suggests he should be named Captain Seeley, after Warrant Officer John Seeley, who convinced the pup to join him back on solid ground.