This article discusses the Nutty Putty Cave mishap that sadly claimed the life of John Jones, a 26-year-old adventurer, in 2009. His passing is a somber reminder of how risky caving may be and the importance of always using safe techniques when going on a cave adventure.
When Nutty Putty Cave was initially discovered in 1960, it gained notoriety for its cramped, slippery corridors, turns, and squeezes. The Birth Canal, The Aorta Crawl, The Scout Eater, and The Maze are some names given to different cave sections.
The complete length and depth of the hydrothermal Nutty Putty Cave have been surveyed, and they are 1355 and 145 feet, respectively.
Who was John Edward Jones?
John’s father routinely took him and his younger brother Josh on caving expeditions throughout Utah, so the two of them had plenty of experience spelunking, though not recently. Josh wasn’t his only sibling; John Edwards Jones was one of 16 nieces and nephews born into a large family of five boys and two girls.
John was a devoted Christian who was known for his “good nature, a delightful sense of humor, strong work ethic, a genuine love of people, a mastery of the ability to relate to children, a love of and unwavering faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and his commitment to his family as an amazing husband, father, son, and brother,” according to a statement made by his family after his death.
John had just become a father, was pursuing his pediatric cardiology training, and his wife was expecting their second child at the time of the accident.
An Accident at the Nutty Putty Cave
The brothers’ John and Josh, decided to rediscover their love for caving on November 24, 2009 and chose Nutty Putty Cave as their next adventure. They arrived at the cave site at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, a few days before Thanksgiving.
By caving standards, it was a sizable group that ultimately entered the Nutty Putty Cave since others joined them: nine additional friends and acquaintances had joined them.
For over an hour, everything went without a hitch. The Big Slide, the cave’s largest room, had been explored by the group.
As time passed, John, Josh, and two of their pals decided to attempt a challenge they had heard about: traversing the Birth Canal, a complex corridor that finally leads to a larger room. The first to move was John, who wriggled ahead for a while but failed to notice any wider area.
He moved a little more, but the tight space didn’t widen; instead, it took a sudden downward curve. John moved ahead with assurance, possibly realizing the tunnel grew larger at the bottom, but it was already too late.
Fifty feet earlier, everything went wrong. Contradictory information on the internet makes it difficult to determine whether John entered the Birth Canal, turned unintentionally, and wriggled into the Scout Eater, or if he completely missed it and entered Ed’s Push, a corridor right next to the Birth Canal.
Ed’s Push no longer opens up to a bigger room. At least nowhere a 6-foot-2, 200-pound man can fit; it leads nowhere. The end of Ed’s Push features four undiscovered tunnels, but they are all too narrow for a person to pass through (instead, if he pushed into the Scout Eater, it has a similar-sized route that only goes up).
In any event, John persisted until he was unable to go on. In addition, he could not turn back on his own because he had wriggled into a crevice that virtually descended straight down. He was squeezed into a space only ten by 18 inches wide.
Except that it wasn’t a complete circle and he was confined to the narrowest area of the entrance, this size is comparable to the opening of a front-loading washing machine. All John could do while trapped more than 100 feet underground and in the cave’s depths was wait and pray.
The Family Waits for Help
Josh, Josh’s brother, was the first to locate John. Josh attempted to pull John out of the rock out of fear for how deeply it had sucked him in but could only raise him a small distance. He let John go and slid back into the gap as soon as he did.
John could not move because one hand was pinned beneath him, and the other was pushed aside. Although his feet and ankles were free, they served little purpose as gravity dragged him downward.
Josh went back to the ground as quickly as he could, slowly wriggling out of the narrow space and rushing to the surface after they both muttered a short prayer. Once outside, he immediately called for assistance, leaving their pal to stay with John.
A local rescue volunteer named Susan was the first to arrive to assist. After hearing about the situation on her rescue pager, she instantly stopped what she was doing and sped to the location in her Toyota.
It had been over three hours since John had been stranded in the cave when she finally arrived at midnight. Susan quickly and efficiently got to John due to her small size and agility.
“Hello, John. I’m Susie. What’s the status?”
John greeted Susie and thanked her for coming, but he added, “I really, really want to leave.”
Several hours later, hundreds of rescuers showed up. The rescue crew immediately came up with one strategy after another.
Before deciding to utilize a rescue rope that goes through a series of climbing cams with one end tied around John’s legs and the other pulled by the crew, they reviewed everything, even lubricating the cave walls.
They also attempted to drill away chunks of rock close to John simultaneously, but the rugged terrain and uncomfortable positioning made drilling tedious and painful. They only succeeded in drilling through a few inches of rock in more than an hour.
John’s body’s positioning further hampered things. The rescuers could see only his feet due to his virtually upside-down position, and because the roof above them hung so low, they could not simply pull him out due to his feet getting in the way. Rescuers spent time feverishly trying to use their initial system of climbing cams, but they were unsuccessful. Following that, they attempted to employ a rope-pully system, securing the pullies with bolts and driving the bolts deep into the cave walls.
Things Begin to Improve
When the rescuers eventually finished setting up their pulley system and began bringing John out, everything changed. They tugged together as a tandem of eight guys. They frequently took breaks since John was sometimes in excruciating discomfort. But with each tug, they could lift John a little higher.
After being pulled upward for the third time, John was finally carried high enough to make eye contact with the rescuer nearest to him. He had a dirty face, red eyes, and a fatigued appearance, but otherwise, he seemed OK.
“Good or bad?”
“It’s awful. I’m inverted. I’m upside down, and I can’t believe it. My legs are hurting so much.”
The rescuer noticed that John was grinning despite his complaints.
After taking another break, they decided to keep lifting John. He was almost out of the trap.
Something happened when the rescue crew raised John for the fourth time.
The rope suddenly came loose in their hands, and the entire squad toppled backward. The closest rescuer briefly lost consciousness after feeling a severe blow to the face. When he awoke, all he could see was dust.
He noticed the nearest key bolt had come off, and the stone arch where the rope was tied around John’s legs had cracked once the dust had settled. He couldn’t tell where John was in the dust, but he quickly understood that John had slid right back into the fissure, this time appearing to be considerably deeper than before.
The rescuer had to switch places with his dad, who was also on the rescue squad since he had significant facial injuries from the impact with a metal carabineer and could not continue the rescue efforts.
He understood that John was fighting for his life when he got to him since his breathing was shallower and less frequent. No answer came when the rescuer screamed out for John.
In an effort to tie the rope around John’s waist, he desperately tried to lower himself into the fissure but managed to get trapped himself.
When he managed to free himself, he dug a new hole for the pulley and crawled tired out of the cave, only to be replaced by another rescuer who tried to reach John but was unsuccessful.
A few minutes later, a doctor entered the cave and found John. On November 25, at 00:00, John was declared deceased. He was 26 at the time.
A total of 137 rescuers put in a heroic 27-hour effort to save John, but they were forced to leave the heartbreaking scene with no supplies and broken hearts. One of them told the reporters that this was the hardest rescue he had ever attempted in his 29 years as a volunteer search and rescuer.
The following day, the authorities decided that removing his body from the cave would be too difficult and dangerous. Therefore, Nutty Putty Cave would always serve as John Edwards Jones’ ultimate resting place.
Jones’ body was near the ceiling, collapsed with explosives, and the entrance hole was sealed with concrete to prevent further entry.
Some people who enjoy spelunking were against the cave’s closure. Facebook user groups tried to save the cave but were unsuccessful. In honor of John, his family had a plaque installed at the cave’s entrance.
RIP John Edward Jones
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