Man trapped in Utah County's Nutty Putty cave dies

Published: Thursday, Nov. 26 2009 4:37 p.m. MST

John and his 13-month old baby daughter, Elizabeth "Lizzie" Dawn Jones.

Provided by the Jones family

ELBERTA, Utah County — Despite more than a full day of rescue efforts, John Edward Jones died around midnight Wednesday while trapped in a tight section of Nutty Putty Cave. He leaves behind a wife and a baby daughter, and a second child expected in June.

According to a family statement released Thursday, Jones will be remembered for "his good nature, delightful sense of humor, strong work ethic, a genuine love of people, a masterful ability to relate to children, a love of and unwavering faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and his commitment to his family as an amazing husband, father, son and brother."

The family – including Jones' wife and daughter, parents, four brothers, two sisters and 16 nieces and nephews – said in the statement that they are grateful for the rescue efforts and know officials "did all they could to get John out," including singing Primary songs to help get him through the night.

"We'll never fully understand how or why it was John's time to leave us. But we find comfort knowing that he fulfilled his purpose here on Earth, and that we will be reunited with him again," the family stated, adding thanks to many people and agencies that have helped them and Jones. "Thank you, and God bless all of you on this Thanksgiving Day."

Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Eldon Packer said Jones, 26, became unresponsive before midnight and had difficulty breathing several hours before. Shortly after midnight a rescuer was able to get close enough to confirm the Stansbury Park man had died.

"The emotional factor alone will have a toll on the rescuers," Sgt. Spencer Cannon said. "We weren't able to get him out quick enough."

The recovery effort was shut down for the night. Sheriff's deputies returned to the site Thursday morning. Once a plan has been determined, Cannon said the rescuers will arrive and continue doing the same work they did in the 27 hours leading up to Jones' death as his body is still stuck in the same crevice.

"We're still in the uncertainty phase in terms of how they're going to bring Jones out," Cannon said Thursday. "We're back to where we were (during the) 27 hours, and once we get him unstuck it's still a two or three hour process of getting him back up."

In the meantime, sheriff's officials have declared the cave a public hazard. They've closed all access to the area and it will be guarded by uniformed deputies. Cannon said they are considering closing the cave permanently but have not made a concrete decision.

The death of Jones, the first in the cave to date, prompted officials to reevaluate the monitoring of the cave since it became a controlled access point in 2004.

Though Cannon said they were able to get some air-powered tools into the cave to chip away at some of the rock that trapped him, Jones most likely died from the pressure on his body and his inability to breathe. He was wedged around his mid-torso and upper hip area.

"Due to the circumstances with his body being held the way it was and being wedged, it was most likely difficult to get a full deep breath," Cannon said. "It would have affected his ability to breathe adequately."

Rescuers first responded to the call about Jones around 9 p.m. Tuesday. Jones had entered the caves with a group of 11 others, but decided to explore a different route, his brother Josh Jones said.

Josh Jones said his brother continued through the tight passageway known as the Birth Canal to Bob's Push, described by police as an 18-inch by 10-inch "L-shaped pinpoint."

Shawn Roundy, a rescuer with Utah County Sheriff's Office, said they had difficulty reaching John Jones, as he was stuck in "absolutely the worst spot in the cave."

"It's very narrow, very awkward, and it's difficult to get rescuers down there," Roundy said Wednesday evening. "It's a really tight spot, but we've been able to get around him. We were able to hold his hand at some point."

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