John Edward Jones visited Nutty Putty Cave with his brother Josh and 11 others on November 24, 2009, just months after the cave reopened. While trying to find the birth canal, Jones took a wrong turn and ended up in an unmapped section of the cave near Ed’s Push.
Thinking he saw a larger opening on the other side, Jones tried to squeeze headfirst into the tight spot and turn around, but found himself hopelessly stuck upside down at a 70 angle. degrees.
“As cavers, that’s one of the things we’re taught not to do: jump headfirst into a tight downward squeeze,” Paulson says. “If it had been facing the other way, I think it would have come out.”
News cameras broadcast the 27-hour ordeal during which 137 volunteers tried to save John, who began to lose consciousness as blood pooled in his head and put increasing pressure on his heart. Downey remembers receiving a phone call at 1 or 2 a.m.
“I was the cave secretary and had all the contact details for the local caving community,” says Downey. “They told me, ‘I need to get the coordinates of some really skinny cavers.’”
Rescuers set up a pulley system to try to pull John out, but the clay walls of the cave could not support the weight. A rescuer was seriously injured when a pulley came loose and struck him in the face.
Despite heroic efforts to free John Jones, he died just minutes before midnight on Thanksgiving Eve. He left behind his wife Emily, a young daughter and a baby boy on the way (his name is John).
Downey says many volunteer rescuers were traumatized by the experience and some have not entered a cave since. When it became clear that Jones’ remains could not be removed from the cave, Nutty Putty was permanently closed and sealed as Jones’ final resting place.
Paulson mourns Jones’ death but insists that caving is a very safe activity, especially when done with the right equipment and with an experienced guide.
“That’s why there are National Speleological Society caves like ours all over the United States,” Paulson says. “We are here to inform, teach and introduce people to caving in complete safety.”
This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.