Because it appears to be technologically unfeasible to remove the body of John Edward Jones from the portion of the Nutty Putty Cave where he was wedged, Utah County officials have decided, with the concurrence of Jones' family, to seal the cave with Jones' body inside. A permanent memorial will mark the spot at the entrance of the cave.
Sgt. Spencer Jones with the Utah County Sheriff's Office said Jones' body was stuck in an unnamed passageway about approximately 100 feet down and 400 feet from the entrance of the cave. They initially said he was stuck in an area known as Bob's Push, which turned out to be incorrect. The crawl spaces where Jones got stuck are so tight, confining and convoluted that only tiny people could get to him, and they'd run a high risk of getting stuck themselves. The family supports closing the cave. "We feel like it would be John's will to protect the safety of future cavers. We feel like not only is this the final resting place and it should be respected, it's also to protect future cavers," said Josh Jones. KSL news video embedded below:
And here's another news video from KSTU Channel 13:
To recap the story, while exploring the Nutty Putty Cave in southeastern Utah County late on Tuesday November 24th, John Edward Jones, who was an experienced spelunker (or "caver"), got stuck in a narrow passage around 8:45 P.M. There was some initial confusion about the precise location of the passage; some thought it was the area called the "birth canal", while others though it was another area called "Bob's Push". He was wedged head down in the L-shaped passage, which was 18 inches wide and no more than 10 inches tall. Jones himself was 6 feet tall and weighed around 200 pounds.
Luckily, Jones was not alone. Once it became apparent he was stuck, the 10 other people who were with him called for help, then safely made it out of the cave themselves. A rescue team which ultimately swelled to 100 people assembled on the scene to begin efforts. All day on Wednesday November 25th they worked to reach and free Jones. But the confined space meant that only a few rescuers could go down into the area at any given time. Crews had to use pneumatic tools to help grind and chip away the rock to open up more space. Finally, at around 4:30 P.M. Wednesday, rescuers freed Jones using a rope-pulley system they had installed. They were able to give him an IV, food and water. He also received a needed morale boost after he was able to talk to his wife over a police radio.
After bolting the pulley system into the rock for more leverage, they began to slowly move Jones up. They were making progress until the bolt failed and Jones slipped back into the L-shaped passage, wedged even more firmly this time. But it wasn't the equipment used that failed. Instead, it was a failure of the rock where the apparatus was anchored. The rope system rescuers used was highly reliable and included redundant parts for extra safety. According to KSL, the problem which ultimately defeated rescuers was a small lip of rock at a critical bend in the narrow tunnel. The lip basically captured the center part of his body, so that as one pulled against it, it was like pulling against a fish hook. It would hang up just underneath the rib cage, against the lip that was in the narrow part of the cave. So rescuers bolted a pulley system into the rock for more leverage. That moved Jones a little ways, until a bolt failed. According to Sgt. Spencer Cannon, "A roof anchor gave way, causing him to fall back down into the area where he had been stuck previously".
It's not known if that setback contributed to Jones' death. The trapped man had trouble breathing for hours. Sometime before midnight his vital signs stopped and rescuers exited the cave. What's more likely is that when he fell back, he became wedged more tightly and awkwardly than before, precluding any chance of successful rescue. It is speculated that Jones may have suffered additional injuries to his lungs and ribs which further restricted his breathing. Late on Wednesday November 25th, he had increasing difficulty breathing, becoming unresponsive just before midnight. Shortly after midnight on Thursday, a rescuer was able to get close enough to confirm the death of Jones.
The Nutty Putty Cave, which is accessed through a hole on the top of a hill about seven miles west of state Road 68, was closed a few years ago following four rescues. In each case, explorers had become stuck and were extracted with no serious injuries. Until now, there had been no recorded fatalities. The incidents, however, led the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), which owns the land, to make the cave a controlled-access area. [Ed. Note: This is the same SITLA which recently came under fire for paying double bonuses to their executives, but that's a separate issue.]
Jones was actually a University of Virginia medical school student, intending to become a pediatric cardiologist. He was home visiting his family in Stansbury Park for Thanksgiving. The 26-year-old Jones leaves behind a wife, Emily Dawn Petersen Jones, a 14-month-old daughter, Elizabeth Dawn Jones, and a second child expected in June 2010. He also leaves behind his parents, four brothers, two sisters and 16 nieces and nephews. He was a devout member of the LDS Church who attended BYU and had completed a full-time mission to Ecuador. Many lives are touched by the sudden and unexpected departure of one person from mortality. Jones' family issued a statement in which they described his life in greater detail and expressed profound gratitude for the heroic efforts of the rescuers. A commemoration of his life will be held on Saturday morning at 11:00 at the LDS Stansbury Park Stake Center. Subsequent news video of this story embedded below: