Elberta » A Stansbury Park man stuck in a narrow Utah County cave died after a more than daylong rescue attempt.
John Edward Jones, 26, was briefly freed from an opening in Nutty Putty Cave, but slipped back in when an anchor in the cave wall, which was attached to a system of ropes and pulleys being used to pull him out, came free from the rock, said Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon.
Devastated family members said in a statement Thursday that Jones was a fighter. "We know he fought with all he had to persevere and not lose hope," it said. "Many on the search-and-rescue team noted his remarkable good spirits and resilience until the end."
The equipment used in the attempted rescue did not fail, Cannon said. It was a failure of the rock where the apparatus was anchored, he said. The rope system rescuers used was highly reliable and included redundant parts for extra safety, he said.
"Getting wedged in there, it's difficult to grasp how [hard] it is to get around the different formations down there," he said.
Jones became stuck in Nutty Putty Cave about 8:45 p.m. Tuesday. After being stuck for 27 hours, he died before midnight Wednesday. Rescue crews are still trying to determine the best way to recover Jones' body.
He leaves behind a wife, Emily, and baby daughter, Elizabeth. His wife is expecting the couple's second child in June.
Recovery teams from several Wasatch Front emergency agencies joined Utah County recovery crews at the cave Thursday morning, but left by 11:30 a.m. Efforts to recover the body will resume this morning, Cannon said. "When it's a recovery, it doesn't make sense to wear people out in a 24-hour operation."
The same methods rescuers tried to free Jones, such as chiseling away rock and rope systems, will be used to free his body, Cannon said.
"He is still in the same tight position he was in [Wednesday]," he said. Jones lay in a crevice known as "Bob's Push," 600 feet from the popular cave's entrance and 150 feet below the surface. An autopsy will be performed by the state Medical Examiner's Office, Cannon said.
By 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jones, who was 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, had moved 10 feet out of the crevice, far enough to get him food and water. But after the anchor pulled loose from the rock, he slid back to where he originally was stuck, wedged head down at a 60- to 70-degree angle, his body filling most of the cavity and making it impossible for him to assist in his rescue.
Jones, a medical student at the University of Virginia, was with a group of 11 people Tuesday who shimmied into the narrow cave entrance, which is a hole on top of a hill about seven miles west of State Road 68.
The group split into two, with several children and some adults staying behind in the less treacherous area while some others went looking for "an adventure" in the more challenging parts of the cave, brother Josh Jones, 23, said Wednesday.
John Jones was moving headfirst into the tight crevice when he became stuck. The group tried to free him, but soon realized the situation required more help.
The approximately 1,500-foot-long cave has several narrow passageways, and is a popular spot for caving enthusiasts. It is on land owned by the state School and Institutional and Trust Lands Administration and is managed by the Timpanogos Grotto, a local chapter of the National Speleological Society.
The previous search and rescue in the cave happened in 2004, when two people became trapped in separate incidents within a week of each other. A 16-year-old got stuck upside down in the same place Jones did.
After those incidents, Timpanogos Grotto took over access to the caves, requiring proper preparations and approval for people seeking to gain entrance.
The cave will remain closed until it can be determined by the appropriate authorities whether it can be reopened safely, Cannon said.
Tribune Reporter Chris Smart contributed to this report.
Funeral is Saturday
A memorial service for John Jones will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the LDS Church Stansbury Park Stake Center, 417 East Benson Road in Stansbury Park.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for contributions to the Emily Jones Memorial Fund at Wells Fargo Bank or Universal Campus Credit Union.