Nutty Putty Cave



Tragic ending: Stranded explorer dies in Utah County cave
By Jason Bergreen, Lindsay Whitehurst and Donald W. Meyers


Teams from West Jordan, South Jordan, Midvale and Wasatch County, among others, joined Utah County recovery crews at Nutty Putty Cave this morning to begin the grim task of recovering John Jones' body from the crevice where he was trapped since Tuesday night.

Jones, 26, is believed to have died sometime before midnight Wednesday. Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon said the crews were sent home after midnight to get rest before starting the recovery effort. He said that will prove to be as difficult as the effort to rescue the Stansbury Park man.

"He is still in the same tight position he was in yesterday," Cannon 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. Rescuers attempted to extricate Jones using a system of ropes and pulleys to inch him out. At 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jones was moved 10 feet out of the crevice, far enough to get him food and water. But the system failed, and Jones slid back to where he was originally stuck, wedged head down at a 60-70-degree angle, his body filling most of the cavity and making it impossible for him to assist in his rescue.

Cannon said the rope system the rescuers used was highly reliable and included redundant parts for extra safety.

"I don't think anyone was more surprised that it failed than those who put it together," Cannon said.

One rescuer was hit by a carabiner during the incident, and needed to get stitches.

Cannon said the number of rescuers working to free Jones on Wednesday swelled from an initial 36 to almost 100, including members of the county's Search and Rescue team and workers from Salt Lake and Wasatch counties. They were also joined by spelunkers from the Utah Caving Association and the Timpanogos Grotto - the group that manages the cave, which is located on state school trust land.

"There were a lot of experienced people working here," Cannon said.

Cannon said this was the first time someone has died in the cave, a popular spot for caving enthusiasts and youth groups.

Using a relay system, rescuers were able to allow Jones to talk by radio to his family gathered on the surface, Cannon said.

When he was initially pulled from the crevice, he spoke over the radio with his wife, said his father, Leon Jones. "He was able to hear her," he said. "It really perked him up."

Though upbeat during most of the day Wednesday, the setback of getting stuck again has taken a toll on Jones' mood, Cannon said.

He said he didn't know if Jones suffered any injuries when he slid back into the crevice, but rescue crews are concerned about his medical condition. Jones was fatigued from his ordeal, and there was a lot of pressure on his upper body and back.

The operation has proved daunting and emotionally taxing on the rescue crews, too, Cannon said.

Shaun Roundy, a Utah County Sheriff's Office rescuer, said ropes and pulleys were the main tools that helped initially free Jones.

"This is the absolute worst place in the cave for not only getting stuck," he said, "[but also] it's almost impossible to get rescuers down in the cave."

Roundy said ropes were tied around Jones' legs and bolts were secured in the cave walls. Pulleys were attached to the bolts and Jones was slowly pulled free.

It was "a very taxing, frustrating rescue just because of the way he was positioned," said Utah County sheriff's Sgt. Tom Hodgson.

Jones, a medical student at the University of Virginia, was with a group of 11 people Tuesday who shimmied into the narrow entrance to the cave, which is a hole on top of a hill about seven miles west of State Road 68. He got stuck about 700 feet into the cave. "We were just looking forward to a good time," said Mike Jones, the victim's 32-year-old brother. "We were in a pretty happy mood."

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 advanced parts of the cave, said 23-year-old Josh Jones, another brother who was with the group.

Joey Stocking, of Logan, was among the group that went farther into the cave. "It basically got to a point where we were trying to figure out if the cave went any further, and that's the route John decided to take," the 25-year-old said.

Jones, who was about 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, was going headfirst into the tight crevice when he realized he was stuck.

"He thought he could kind of keep going on his belly down further, but it got to point where he couldn't go any further and he got wedged in," Stocking said.

The group tried to free him, but soon realized the situation required more help.

"I was only able to see his two feet that were hanging there in the crevice," Josh Jones said. "I wasn't able to see more because he was engulfed in the crevice itself."

When Josh Jones went to the surface to call for help about 9:30 p.m., Stocking stayed behind, talking to John Jones about the situation. He said Jones was quiet, only saying every so often that he was coming out.

"I think he was just kind of mentally trying not to freak out about being stuck," Stocking said.

When Leon Jones heard about the predicament, his first thought was, "My sons have gotten themselves into another pickle."

The last search and rescue in the cave came 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, a local caving group, Timpanogos Grotto, took over access to the caves, requiring proper preparations and approval for people seeking to go there.

The approximately 1,500-foot-long cave has several narrow passageways, and is a popular spot for caving enthusiasts.

Scott Sherman contributed to this report.



First Name:
Last Name: