Nutty Putty Cave




















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NUTTY PUTTY CAVE
MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT JOHN JONES’ DEATH

I remember the caves from my BYU days.  I guess what I don't understand is why the family decided to leave the body there.  Is there no way (and I know this is a little gross to think about) to get his body out after a little time has passed?  I am also confused why if the rescuers had made progress until the pulley failed, why they didn't hook up another pulley at the time?  I thought the caves were awesome when I went but I didn't go through any part that I feared myself or anybody else in our party getting stuck so maybe I am just not understanding the logistics?  As a law student, I can appreciate that the liability in owning the cave/allowing it to be used must be huge and a waiver would help, but "good" lawyers will always be able to squirm around a waiver, particularly if there has already been a death.  So I guess I don't really know what to do about leaving the caves open (although I find the closing somewhat disappointing) unless there was a massive insurance policy in place but I am confused about the logistics of the body.  I also wanted to ask how common it is to wedge yourself so tight that you literally cannot get out.  That seems so horrifying to me.  I was always taught to go "feet first" into anything that looked remotely tight; would this advice have helped John?
Marissa Lees - Salt Lake City, Utah

Marissa: You have asked some really great questions. Let me take them one by one...

I guess what I don't understand is why the family decided to leave the body there. 

A) The family was not really given another option. It was felt that further recovery attempts the following day and second day would have been too risky to the recovery team and the body would not have been able to be retrieved in one piece. From my viewpoint I feel that they very unselfishly accepted that reality and agreed to leave John’s body in the cave.

Is there no way (and I know this is a little gross to think about) to get his body out after a little time has passed? 

A) Yes there is a way, but when the decision was made it was felt that it would be difficult and that the remains might slide further down into the passage. Nobody in the room, that I could tell, could reasonably make a good determination given what we had all been through. In subsequent days, I heard a few proposals of ideas, but none of which could take place until more decomposition has been accomplished, and that meant more time. I had the current decomposition process explained to me and yes it was gross and I do not care to relay the details here.

I am also confused why if the rescuers had made progress until the pulley failed, why they didn't hook up another pulley at the time? 

A) Another rigging was completed, but by the time it was ready to go John had given up strength and without his ability to help it was just not possible to move him.

I thought the caves were awesome when I went but I didn't go through any part that I feared myself or anybody else in our party getting stuck so maybe I am just not understanding the logistics? 

A) That is not really a question, but I understand your confusion.After reading the articles and hearing the news stories, much of the information regarding his location were not reported accurately. John was exploring a passage that is not on the map and you have to go out of your way to locate it and try to crawl. Very few people have been up there and he was crawling along head first.

As a law student, I can appreciate that the liability in owning the cave/allowing it to be used must be huge and a waiver would help, but "good" lawyers will always be able to squirm around a waiver, particularly if there has already been a death. 

A) If John’s remains are ever recovered, that is not an automatic sign that cavers can once again explore the cave.

So I guess I don't really know what to do about leaving the caves open (although I find the closing somewhat disappointing) unless there was a massive insurance policy in place but I am confused about the logistics of the body. 

A) Are you confused as to the actual location? It is more learly shown on the 1965 map than the newer 2004 offering.But even still, the 1965 map rendering is just a best guess because that passage was so small that it was never fully explored. Here is a cropped image I made to help you better visualize where John’s body is located. Download the older map and put it in perspective.

John’s Passage

I also wanted to ask how common it is to wedge yourself so tight that you literally cannot get out.  That seems so horrifying to me. 

I have wedged myself several times in passages, but never in one that did not have a smaller person ahead of me talking me through it and somebody behind me also talking me through it. Claustrophobia is very real and I experience it when I do not have enough light, and/or my vision of what is ahead is limited due to my helmet blocking my view. I have resolved this by entering tight passages with a handheld light as well as my headlamp. When I am twisted such that I cannot see I often panic and I have to force myself to calm down. This is where I have others by me to talk me out of my paniced condition. I don’t care what they talk to me about, but I have to have them talk me through it. I train those near me to listen for my voice and my breathing for differences that might indicate panic. It is more rare nowadays, but I still vividly remember those first trips to Nutty Putty back in 1993.

Michael LeavittSince this has turned into a confessional of sorts, let me take a moment and share with you my return to the cave earlier this year before its re-opening. I went with my two sons Adam (15) and Aaron (11). Both of them are much smaller than me and Adam had first explored the cave when he was about 8 years old. We looked down in the entry from above and could see several large boulders down in the bottom. I did not remember these from my earlier visits, the most recent of which was about 3 years prior.

I dropped down into the opening and there was no room to move around. Instead of standing on earth, you stood on boulders and looked down at the 14” tall x 21” wide entry hole. Adam went through without a hitch and unlocked the gate. I noticed that he had to lay on these rocks and then slid head first into the hole... And he made it look easy. Our littlest son Aaron went next with great excitement with no issues. Both of them were waiting inside. I then laid down on the rocks and had to bend my knees so that my lower legs were straight upwards. I scooched forward downhill and made the decision to have one arm ahead and one on my side. Gravity pulled me downward and with my head entering the passage my shoulders wedged and I started to panic .It had been a few years since I had experienced this feeling, but my heart started racing and my breathing quickened and I could not do anything. I was wedged in an awkward downward position and I literally freaked out. Sweating and agitated I could not go forward and gravity was holding me in place. I wiggled my legs and hips and used my hand that was outside the opening to help inch my way backwards and upwards.

It took me about a minute to get back out of the opening and I was so disappointed in myself. I was drenched with panic sweat and still visibly shaking. I began to breath deeply and slower trying to regain my composure. Before I knew it, Adam’s head came poking out of the opening to see if I was okay. I knew that I would be fine, but I assessed the situation and realized what had really happened.

The entry passage had been partially filled with boulders by those frustrated that there was a gate on the cave. These large 2’x2’x1’ stones had been rolled into the throat of the opening and this is why the space at the bottom was so much more cramped than I remembered. I decided that our new goal for the day was to figure out how to remove these rocks so that people 6’6” 220 pounds could lay flat on the ground and more easily enter the cave. On subsequent trips we removed all of those large boulders and made sure that they were put far away from the opening so that it would not be easy to roll them back into the hole.

So why have I shared all of this? It was good for me to rethink about my latest feelings of claustrophobia. It also helped me to relate just a bit with what John must have endured for over 25 hours before he passed. I cannot think of a more painful and excruciating way to die.

I was always taught to go "feet first" into anything that looked remotely tight; would this advice have helped John?

Michael LeavittAs the rescuers related to me, John never would have made it through all of the twist and turns backwards. He made it quite a ways head first and was probably feeling a great deal of success until the final downward slide from which he couldn’t return. Your advice to go feet first is very wise and yet not really practical for long yet unexplored passages because you have to be able to see your options as you crawl through. If you were really set on exploration of unmapped passages, then you would probably rig up the tiniest and strongest person in the group with a harness and ropes so that he/she could be easily retrieved and do it a s a group exploration project. Then you would send the rigged little guy carefully into the passage always being able to get them back out. John Jones was involved in solo free exploring without any rigging.

 
 
 
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