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Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

PostPosted: Aug 24, 2010 1:04 pm
by JR-Orion
jaa45993, you mentioned having written a full report for American Caving Accidents. I would like to read that, if you are able to post it somewhere.


Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

PostPosted: Aug 24, 2010 1:43 pm
by Anonymous_Coward
So John was completely upside down? Like that schematic shows? I was always under the impression he was at a 45 degree angle or maybe 60 degrees.

It depends on where in the passage he was. The schematic effectively shows the highest point that he was hauled to. I don't think he was quite as vertical as shown, but it was close. The angle does change several times further in. (not shown on schematic) I also have the impression that the distance from haul team to John (at his nearest) was about twice what is shown on the schematic. So the depiction contains errors, but it is still very helpful in giving folks the general idea.

Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

PostPosted: Aug 24, 2010 2:11 pm
by Anonymous_Coward
This is the report that I submitted to ACA. Since we probably won't see ACA for at least a few months, I decided to go ahead and post this here with some disclaimers. Tim, if you feel this belongs better in the "registered only" section then please feel free to move it there.

First of all, these are my impressions of the accident and rescue effort as a team member. I am not an official spokesperson for the rescue or for any organization that was there. I was on scene for about 13 hours, approximately the second half of the time that the rescue was in progress. There was considerable fog of war and disorganization. I do not claim to have all the answers. Other team members disagree on some of the finer points, and multiple reports have been sent to ACA. What gets published in ACA may look very different than what you see here. I had access to Dave Shurtz's report and lifted some of his exact wording. The majority of it I wrote myself and I am entirely responsible for the commentary at the end.

It has been very therapeutic to get this information out after so much time has passed. I hope it will serve to answer the burning questions, alleviate ill-feelings, and help us all to be a little safer underground.

Nutty Putty Incident Synopsis
Compiled by Andy Armstrong from first-hand observations, conversations with other rescuers, and a report by Dave Shurtz

On the evening of 24 November, 2009, John Jones (26) and ten of his family members including children entered Nutty Putty Cave. Jones had acquired a permit (good for six people) from the managing agency, a subcommittee of Timpanogos Grotto. This management system was set up in response to the landowner, SITLA (Utah State School and Institutional Trust Land Administration) wanting to permanently seal the cave in response to two back-to-back rescues there in 2005. In 2005, access was uncontrolled and Nutty Putty averaged about 30,000 visits annually, mostly by ill-equipped spelunkers. Local cavers intervened, and were able to get SITLA to agree to their management of the cave. A gate was placed in the entrance with the assistance of Utah Cave Conservancy and Timpanogos Cave National Monument. After all the legal maneuvering was settled, the cave opened to permitted visits in October, 2009.

Jones’ group entered the cave and toured the entrance area. After a short time, most of the group left the cave while John and others including his brother Josh continued to explore. They proceeded to a tight, nasty, passage beyond the well-known Bob’s Push. The passage is mostly belly-crawl size and undulates up and down before taking a decisive turn to the left and downward. The remainder of the passage to its dead-end is very tight and slopes downward at about a 60 degree angle. John entered the passage head-first and continued head-first at least 30 feet down the steep, tight section. At some point, he realized he could not back out against the force of gravity. John sent the others out of the passage and continued downward, hoping to find a place to turn around. The others soon heard him yelling that he was stuck and needed help.

Seeing that they were unable to free John, his family called for help at approximately 10:00 pm. Utah County SAR, including several members that are experienced cavers responded. Having rescued others from this cave, including the same spot where John was stuck, the rescuers were confident they would get him out. The fact that John was upside-down made this rescue more difficult than the previous ones. Another call for small cave rescuers went out at midnight. Around this time, Rob Stillmar, a wiry, strong, caver that had worked on previous Nutty Putty rescues went head-first into the passage to try and work with John’s legs. While going in head-first was risky, and exactly how John got into trouble, it was really the only way that anyone could do anything to assist John. Going in feet-first would only get the rescuer’s feet in proximity with John’s feet, accomplishing nothing. Rob went in head-first with webbing tied around him so that others could help haul him out. Rob worked with John for a long time, but the valiant effort only succeeded in moving him a short distance. Rob became stuck on his way back up, and it took some time for him to free himself, with help from above. Around this time, webbing straps were placed around John’s legs in preparation for a haul system that was being built above him.

Another call for small cave rescuers went out at about 3:00 am and again at 5:00 am on the 25th. By 8:00 am there were approximately 100 people on scene, including Utah County Sherriff personnel, SAR team members including Utah Cave SAR, many different area fire rescue crews, paramedics, National Park Service personnel, and volunteer cavers. At least six rescuers with NCRC training were on hand, including a former national instructor, and others with higher than Level 1 training. The top of the hill where the entrance is located was a typical large-scale rescue circus, complete with fire trucks, ambulances, police vehicles, and caver rigs on the ground, and helicopters circling overhead. John had been stuck upside-down for nearly 12 hours, but was responsive and was helping the rescuers as much as he could. At any given time, there were about 15 rescuers in the cave, as John was really only about 10 minutes from the entrance. Cavers were given operational control underground, with fire and sheriff’s office personnel rotated in and out on about a 2-3 hour schedule. Some cavers were underground for 12 hours at a time, with a few cavers that had arrived early in the rescue doing two twelve-hour shifts.

A 3:1 haul system was set up about 60’ up the passage from John, where there was actually room for a haul team. Unfortunately, the haul line had to pass through four pulleyed deviations in the twisting crawlway in order to reach John. Some of these were originally rigged on natural anchors and climbing cams. When the extreme forces on the redirect anchors became apparent, they were all changed over to bolt anchors except the one closest to John, which was rigged on a seemingly bomber natural anchor in the ceiling.

The haul shifts were accomplished with one very small caver in proximity with John, moving and pulling on his legs. The haul and stop commands came from this position as no one else in the operation could see the patient. After a few haul sequences, the friction in the system proved to be too much. To attempt to alleviate this, another 3:1 haul line was added, with one attached to each of John’s legs. Many attempts were made to establish a connection point around his waist, but no one could reach far enough in to do it. John was on his left shoulder with his left arm pinned under him. His body completely filled the passage, preventing all attempts to access any part of his body above the waist. Once both haul lines were operational, the team began to make the only real progress of the entire rescue. This was accomplished by encouraging John to do most of the work, with the dual haul systems capturing any upward progress that he made. Many stops for slack on the line were called, in order to take some of the squeezing pressure off of John’s legs. Using an oxygen hose, rescuers were able to get water and Gatorade to John’s mouth, but it is unclear how much fluid he was actually able to take in.

At one point in the process, Ryan Shurtz was in the forward rescuer position, manipulating John’s legs and encouraging him to help. Ryan was unfortunately in the zone of entrapment underneath the final deviation in the haul line, because he had nowhere else to work. The natural bridge that the final deviation was rigged to had a sharp back edge that had been slowly cutting through the 11mm rope anchoring the pulleys there. During a haul, the rope snapped, sending steel carabiners and rescue pulleys into Ryan’s face with incredible force. This impact knocked him out, partially severed his tongue, cut his face badly, and caused a small concussion. When Ryan came to, he was helped out of the crawl to the haul team area. He was cleaned up a little by the medics on scene, and then exited the cave under his own power to seek hospital care. Ryan made a full recovery, with some scars to show for it. He is very fortunate not to have been blinded or killed by the impact.

The rigging failure also dropped John about a foot. The drop did not injure him further, but effectively ended any hope of rescue as his condition was already severely declining. Extracting Ryan, re-rigging the deviation with a bolt anchor, and getting the team back in position took over an hour. During this time, John became unresponsive. As a result, when the haul resumed, he was no longer able to help the rescuers with his upward progress. The haul was pulling him upward into a tight spot, much like trying to push a cork into an upturned bottle.

Unfortunately, during the day, one of the rescuers had exited the cave and told the press that John was nearly free and the team would have him out in a couple of hours. It was broadcast over television news that John was free and on his way out. Only about an hour later, the rigging failed. Thus it was reported in many media outlets across the U.S. that John had been freed, and then the rigging failure caused him to fall all the way back to where he started. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

John expired at some time between 9 pm and midnight. No autopsy was performed but his death is believed to be the consequence of being upside-down for over 24 hours. In this position, the lower organs compress the diaphragm and lungs, making each breath a physical chore. Also in this position, the lungs can fill with fluid, and John’s breath was heard to be very gurgly in the last couple of hours. Many other medical issues can also result from being inverted. It is amazing, and a testament to John’s will to live that he survived as long as he did.

After midnight, all rescuers were told to go home and spend time with their families as it was Thanksgiving Day, and were to await instructions for a possible body recovery over the weekend. Believing it too dangerous to recover the body, the Sherriff’s office convinced the family to leave John’s body where it lay. SITLA agreed to this and had the cave sealed with a concrete plug at the entrance.


John made several mistakes. At 6 feet tall, and 190 lbs. he was very large for the passage he was in. None of the rescuers of John’s size were able to get anywhere near him. He elected to crawl head-first down a tight, nearly vertical passage. The passage dead-ends and offers nowhere to turn around. It is the type of passage that most cavers would enter feet-first in order to be able to escape, if they entered it at all. If John had been right-side-up, the rescuers would have had much more time to work, and he would likely be alive today. It is believed by most of the rescuers that on his crawl downhill, John must have slipped and popped through the tightest part of the passage with the aid of gravity. Otherwise it is difficult to see how he could have made it through such a tight spot. John had retrograde amnesia when first contacted by rescuers, supporting the idea that he may have fallen through and hit his head.

The rescue team tried everything possible and worked tirelessly for over 26 hours. Their best efforts were not enough. Two lessons may be learned from this, one that is disturbing and one that is somewhat comforting. The first lesson is; cavers can get into places and situations where rescue is not possible. On some level all cavers know this, but John’s predicament reminds us of this fact in a sobering way. He died less than 15 minutes from the entrance of a cave that was popular with scouts and church youth groups. What is comforting is that John’s particular situation is not very likely to happen again in the near future. Very few people would have made the choice to crawl down that passage head-first, regardless of their level of caving experience. We will never know what was going through John’s mind when he made that decision. He eventually saw his error, but it was too late. While being stuck underground is always a serious situation, cavers need to be extremely careful to avoid getting stuck in an inverted position. Because John was upside-down, the clock was ticking, and there was not enough time to get him out.

Whenever possible, cavers should try to convince landowners and family members that it is generally not a good idea to leave a body in a cave. This often seems like the right thing to do at the time, but causes a lack of closure for both the family and the rescuers. In addition, history (including that of James Mitchell and Floyd Collins) shows us that this decision does not usually hold up in the long run and eventually the body will have to be recovered. In this case, cavers with this viewpoint were heard, but their advice was not followed.

In this tragedy, we not only lost a fellow human being, but also access to one of the most popular caves in Utah. It is interesting how cave fatalities are treated differently than other outdoor deaths. Every year, people are killed on Utah’s ski slopes, in its National Parks, and on its waterways. These all remain open for business. When deaths occur underground, people’s inherent fear of caves often causes them to make irrational decisions. After John’s death, the landowner wanted to set charges throughout the mile-long cave and dynamite the entire thing. Cavers were able to negotiate a compromise to where just the entrance would be sealed.

Finally, during any rescue all rescuer interactions with the press should be handled through a Press Information Officer (PIO). Inaccurate comments can cause a lot of confusion and hurt for family members, rescuers, and other cavers. When the rigging failed, John was still many, many hours from being “free.”

Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

PostPosted: Aug 24, 2010 8:30 pm
by JR-Orion
Well, there it is. Thanks for the detailed report.

Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

PostPosted: Aug 26, 2010 7:23 am
by Stridergdm

Thanks for the detailed report. Quite interesting. Again, my sympathies go out to friends and family and the rescuers involved. I know from personal experience the psychological consequences of dealing with a caver death.

I tend to agree with your observation that deaths in caves are generally treated differently than deaths in other wilderness areas. Fortunately, in the case of the cave death here locally, there was no real movement to close the cave.

I think your comment and another poster's comment on time is a very important one. It's the one resource you can never have enough of and if it runs out, there's little you can do.

Also, hopefully this accident and your report (and others) will help others become safer cavers. I've said before and will say again that the best feedback I ever received from some experienced cavers who took a local OCR course was, "it made me become a safer caver."

Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

PostPosted: Aug 26, 2010 9:59 pm
by NZcaver
jaa45993 wrote:
Scott McCrea wrote:Did anyone snatch this PDF? I missed it and it appears to be gone. The link in the left side-bar did not work.

Try this one Scott:

The nice PDF diagram seems to have been snatched again. :shrug:

Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

PostPosted: Aug 27, 2010 10:59 am
by DansRock
I saved that PDF and can e-mail it to anyone who needs a copy. I tried to attach as a jpg to this comment but it's not working.

Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

PostPosted: Aug 27, 2010 4:12 pm
by NZcaver
The Nutty Putty rescue diagram is now available to view or download here -

Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

PostPosted: Sep 2, 2010 2:54 pm
by Ernie Coffman
Thanks Jansen for putting the diagram in PDF form, for all the others were discontinued. Also, big thanks to Andy, Dale, and the others who contributed all of their thoughts on this mission, as well as participating in same. I had heard of forthcoming news on the possibility of removing Jones' body, but between the convention and being out of the country, I missed a lot of the updates, as here, so when my friend in Utah forwarded me the story, I immediately went to CaveChat :cavechat: and here was all of the info that I needed. Big thanks to everyone who submitted info on this story and hopefully, folks will have learned even more after reading all of these personal thoughts on this sad happening.

Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

PostPosted: Nov 7, 2010 2:54 pm
by commanderzoom
ArCaver wrote:
monkey wrote: Would you like to be left in a damp dark cave forever.


Same here.

Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

PostPosted: Nov 16, 2018 1:04 am
by dougc
I know this thread has been inactive for over eight years, but just in case someone with the requisite knowledge and expertise checks it...

I have read everything I can find about the John Jones rescue effort and am awed by the courage, persistence, ingenuity, and selflessness of those involved. I do, however, have some questions about the particular challenges the rescuers faced. And my questions arise in the context of my own highly fallible "picture" of the crawl John entered and became trapped in.

So here, before posing my questions, is what I have put together about the crawl (from reading this thread, Lindsay Whitehurst's account in the Salt Lake City Tribune, and Shaun Roundy's book 75 Search and Rescue Stories):
a) John had wormed his way about 50'-60' into the crawl, and the haul team--once it was set up--was approximately that far away from him.
b) The crawl initially went down about 8' at a 45-degree angle, then up about 8' at roughly a 45-degree angle. Then it leveled off for a distance of around 12' before dropping almost 10' vertically. At the bottom of the vertical plunge, it leveled off briefly just before taking a sharp left and sloping downward for some 20'-30' at approximately a 60-degree angle. The height of the crawl (in that last 20'-30' sloping section) was seldom more than 12" and apparently a good bit less in some places. Near its end was the (what? 5'-deep?) fissure in which John became stuck upside down (at approximately a 70-degree angle).

Okay, that's how I picture the crawl. Now for my questions:
1) If the rescuers approached John head-first, was there any place in the crawl where the most nimble could turn around? Or did they have to back out the entire 50'-60'?
2) If they had to back out the entire way, how did they get up the (approximately) 10-foot vertical drop one would encounter roughly 28' into the crawl?
3) If the rescuers could back out the entire length of the crawl, what prevented John from doing the same before he became stuck in the fissure? Was the vertical height of the crawl just too low in some places for a man his size to make it through against the force of gravity? If so, then weren't the first rescuers to reach him (i.e., Rob Stilmar and Susie Motola) at great risk themselves? (I am assuming that later in the rescue some rock was removed from this constriction by the air-powered chisels?)
4) Several rescuers describe Ryan Shurtz either as being able to crawl part way into the fissure (in which John was stuck) or as preparing to wedge his way past John in order to help push him up the crawl once he (John) was out of the fissure. But if there was no place for Ryan to turn around, and if he had entered the crawl head-first, how would he have been able push John? (By bracing himself with his arms and pushing with his feet?)

Thanks in advance to anyone willing and able to answer my questions. And a huge thank-you to the folks who worked so hard at such great risk in the face of such formidable challenges to try to save another human being. I want you to know that there are many, many people who salute you for your bravery, skill, and simple human decency.

Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

PostPosted: Feb 19, 2019 12:19 am
by BrianFrank
I don't know the answers to your questions. Such a terrible tragic event. This story when it happened made me sick. But, it did make me a safer caver as I won't go down head first in an unknown declining passage ever again.