In 2009 an American man named John Edward Jones lost his life in probably the worst way possible while exploring the Nutty Putty Cave in Utah. Read on only if you are okay with the possibility of developing a fear of caves and enclosed spaces. This story is similar to 127 Hours but without the part where James Franco’s character gets to go home to his family at the end. It is an extremely sobering and tragic story about the dangers of exploring the unknown.
The Nutty Putty Cave is a cave in Elberta, Utah named for the clay found within. It is known for its small and twisting tunnels. To give you a picture of its shape, sections of the cave are named “The Birth Canal” and “The Aorta Crawl”. Efforts had recently been made to decrease tourism to the cave because inexperienced explorers kept getting lost or stuck and needing rescue. The cave had been closed off for three years beginning in 2006 and reopened on May 18, 2009.
John Jones was a 26-year-old medical student who was happily married and expecting his second child with his wife. He had grown up caving with his father and brother and was confident in his caving abilities and knowledge of the area. On November 24, 2009 John Jones, his brother Josh, and 9 other friends met at the Nutty Putty Cave at 8pm to do some exploring together over the Thanksgiving break.
John Jones began to explore the “Birth Canal” section, however something went wrong and he ended up in another area, “Bob’s Push”, 100 feet below the surface of the cave. Because John thought he was supposed to be able to pass through the section of the cave he was in, he tried to continue. The section of cave he was actually in did not lead anywhere and John ended up getting stuck at a downward angle, with one arm under his body and one twisted behind him. He was unable to turn around or wiggle backwards.
Josh found John and tried to pull him out of the passageway but because of the angle and the cave’s slippery floor, John would simply slide back into place. Josh left the cave and called for help. Three hours after they entered the Nutty Putty cave the first rescue worker arrived to try to get John out of the cave.
John Jones was 6 feet tall and weighed 200 pounds. The section of cave he was trapped in was 10 inches by 18 inches.
Rescue was very slow because the narrow shape of the cave meant that even though there were a lot of rescue workers on hand, only one rescue worker at a time could reach John. The situation with John’s health was also becoming more dire as time passed. John was enduring a state of elevated stress for hours. He was also trapped upside down so his heart was under strain both from gravity and as a result of the stress.
Around the 19 hour mark from when John entered the cave, rescue workers were able to lower a walkie talkie on a rope near John so that he could talk to his wife.
After hours of work they had secured a rope around John’s legs and created a pulley system to lift John out of the cave. Unfortunately, as they were pulling John out the pulley system broke and John fell deeper into the cave. His health worsened. When a medical professional was able to reach John, they pronounced him dead.
It had been 28 hours.
A decision was made that any further efforts were too dangerous. The Nutty Putty Cave was instead permanently closed and the entrance sealed with concrete. John’s body remains entombed in the Nutty Putty Cave.
He was only supposed to be in Utah to visit family for Thanksgiving, when he and his wife planned to announce they were expecting a second child. His widow says the experience has strengthened her belief in the afterlife.“I’d had my fair share of doubts and struggles, but after my experiences after John’s death, I knew death wasn’t the end. I knew John was still out there. I thought: ‘OK. He has work to do and I need to figure out what I’m going to do.”
John’s son was born and named John Edward Jones II.
In John Jones’ memory, the website Cave Haven has published a detailed account of the rescue attempt along with a list of safe practices for cave exploration.