SALT LAKE CITY — A California man who fell while exploring Utah's longest cave near Vernal remained hospitalized Monday following a dramatic 12-hour rescue.
On Sunday, a 24-year-old man and three friends were exploring Little Brushcreek Cave, located in the Ashley National Forest near Dinosaur National Monument, when the man slipped and fell approximately 50 feet, breaking both of his arms, said Uintah County Sheriff's Cpl. Brian Fletcher. The men were an estimated 500 feet inside the cave when the accident occurred.
"These aren't easy caves. There are some technical parts. There are some areas that are pretty sketchy," Fletcher said.
It took one of the man's friends about an hour to get back to the cave entrance where he was able to call 911 about 9 p.m. He had to free climb two sections of cave that were approximately 50-feet high to get there, Fletcher said.
After learning how far down the injured man was, resources from the sheriff's office, Uintah County Search and Rescue, Vernal Fire Department, crews from Wasatch, Utah and Salt Lake counties, as well as the Utah Cavers Association and National Cavers Association all responded to the cave to help.
Rescuers had to rappel in several areas to get to the injured man. Two rescuers, a Vernal firefighter and a search and rescue member stayed by the man's side through the night as others prepared for the extraordinarily technical rescue.
The man was loaded onto a backboard and had to be completely immobilized, Fletcher said. From there, crews slowly maneuvered him through the cave, pulling him up the steep drop-offs, and through one narrow point of the cave where only one person can get through at a time, he said.
Just before 10 a.m. Monday, crews were able to bring the injured man to the surface. He was flown by medical helicopter to a hospital to be treated for multiple broken bones and other injuries, sheriff's officials said.1 comment on this story
Two other men who were also with the group had become fatigued by that point and also needed the assistance of search and rescue crews to get out of the cave, according to Fletcher.
The incident serves as a good reminder to the public to be prepared before exploring caves and know what they're getting into before arriving. In this case, Fletcher said the men didn't have the expertise to climb in the caves.
"Realistically, these guys didn't have any climbing experience," he said. "These guys weren't prepared. They just saw an adventure and decided to try it."