26-year-old John Edward, who was experienced but had not been spelunking in some time, traveled with his wife and 13-month-old daughter. He had mostly gained his experience as a child when his father took him and his brother on caving excursions throughout Utah.
On November 24, 2009, a few days before Thanksgiving, John and his family decided to go spelunking. They were joined by nine more friends and acquaintances, forming a large group of eleven people, who eventually entered the Nutty Putty Cave.
Where is Nutty Putty Cave?
Nutty Putty Cave is a popular destination among spelunkers and cave enthusiasts due to its challenging and unique features. The cave is characterized by its narrow and slippery passages, twists, and turns, which require a high degree of skill and experience to navigate.
Nutty Putty Cave is a hydrothermal cave in Utah County, Utah, located west of Utah Lake. Dale Green was the first to investigate it in 1960. It has drawn many visitors since its discovery, and it quickly became famous for its narrow and slippery passages, twists, and turns.
Between 1999 and 2004, six individuals became trapped in one of the narrowest passages of Nutty Putty Cave, known as “The Helmet Eater,” “The Scout Eater,” and “The Birth Canal.” Thankfully, all six individuals were able to be rescued and emerged alive. However, with the increasing popularity of the cave and its narrow pathways, it was only a matter of time before a fatal accident occurred.
In 2005, a group of four individuals was found deceased in an underwater tunnel inside a small, underground chamber, which they had jokingly referred to as “The Cave of Death” the night before.
This tragedy led to the closure of Nutty Putty Cave in 2006, due to safety concerns, and it was reopened in May 2009. Unfortunately, it was during this time that John Edward and his group went spelunking, resulting in another tragic accident.
How Did John get stuck in Nutty Putty Cave?
On November 24, 2009, around 8 p.m., John Jones entered the Nutty Putty Cave. About an hour into the caving expedition, John believed he had found the Nutty Putty Cave’s birth canal, a narrow opening that explorers must pass through to enter the cave, but soon realized he had made a mistake.
He had entered head first and was unable to turn around, finding himself stuck in a passage barely 10 inches across and 18 inches tall. He tried to exhale to make more space but found it difficult to breathe. His brother Josh found him and tried to pull him out, but John was pushed even lower in the passage. Trapped and with no room to move, they began to pray for guidance.
Josh searched for help, but they were in a remote area. The first rescuer, Susie Motola, arrived at around 12:30 am on November 25, at which time John had been trapped for three hours, 400 feet into the cave and 100 feet below the earth’s surface. Susie and a team of rescuers attempted to use a pulley and roping system to free John, but the angle of the tunnel and his position made it impossible to bend his body without risking breaking his legs. They also found that the cams anchoring the pulleys were slipping from their places in the weak calcite.
Susie introduced herself to John: Even though all she could see of him were his pair of shoes.
Hi, John, my name is Susie. How’s it going?”
John responded to her by saying, “Hi, Susie, thanks for coming, but I really, really want to get out.”
Despite her own experience of being trapped alone in the Nutty Putty Cave, Susie did everything in her power to try and free John. She assisted in stringing a rope from John’s back to the rest of the team positioned at the entrance of the tunnel. The team pulled with all their might, but it was not enough to move John. Susie helped him shift positions but ultimately was unable to extract him. After two hours of trying to rescue him, she was forced to crawl out for a rest, and another rescuer took her place.
Over the course of the next few hours, a growing number of rescuers worked tirelessly to extricate John from the depths of the cave. It was decided that a pulley and roping system would be employed in an attempt to free John from his perilous position.
However, as the hours passed, it became increasingly apparent that John would not be able to be rescued without incurring severe injuries or death. The rescuers were forced to make the difficult decision to abandon their efforts to extract John, and he ultimately perished in his trapped position. This was a tragic outcome to a valiant rescue effort, serving as a somber reminder of the dangers of caving in remote and treacherous locations.
After two hours of trying to get him out, with everything she knew, she crawled out for rest while another rescuer took her place.
It is worth noting that, approximately six years prior to this incident, rescuers had successfully freed a 16-year-old boy who had become trapped in the same tunnel as John. However, due to John’s larger size and the fact that he was farther down the tunnel, the rescuers were only able to reach approximately 6 inches of his legs. Furthermore, the angle of the tunnel made it impossible to bend John’s body backward without risking breaking his legs. And the cams anchoring the pulleys were slipping from their places in the weak calcite.
All hopes lost
With no hope of rescue and his heart had suffered hours earlier due to the strain of his downward position, John Edward was declared dead of cardiac arrest. After his death, it was determined that removing his body from the Nutty Putty Cave would be too difficult.
As a result, it was decided to fill the cave with his body and seal the cave with concrete to create a memorial or burial site for him.
A week after his death, officials permanently sealed off the Nutty Putty Cave. The cave now serves as a natural memorial and gravesite for John Edward Jones.
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