The devastating story of John Edward Jones, who was trapped in Nutty Putty Cave for more than a day before dying there in 2009.
John Edward Jones loved caving with the family. His father often took him and his brother Josh on caving expeditions in Utah. The boys learned to love the deep underground and their dark beauty.
John Edward Jones, who died in Nutty Putty Cave in 2009.
Unfortunately, John’s first expedition to Nutty Putty Cave, about 55 miles southwest of Utah Lake, about 55 miles from Salt Lake City, was his last.
Explorer Emily Vinton Maughen at the entrance to Nutty Putty Cave.
Around 8pm, John Edward Jones entered Nutty Putty Cave. Local time on the evening of November 24, 2009, a few days before Thanksgiving. John, 26 at the time, and Josh, 23, and nine other friends and family members decided to explore Nutty Putty Cave to communicate before their holiday.
At 26, John was in the prime of his life. He is married to a one-year-old daughter and is attending medical school in Virginia. He’s back home in Utah for some relaxing vacations with his family.
Things didn’t go according to plan.
John hadn’t been in any caves for years. At 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, he’s not the kid he used to be.
After about an hour of caving, John decided to look for Nutty Putty Cave, known as the “Birth Canal,” a narrow passage that cavers must carefully crawl through. He found what he thought was the birth canal, and headed down the narrow passage, pushing himself with his hips, stomach, and fingers. But after a few minutes, he realized he had made a serious mistake.
Researcher Cami Pulham climbs out of the birth canal at Nutty Putty Cave. This is the passage that John Jones thought he found when he got stuck.
John knew he was almost trapped now and had nowhere to turn. He didn’t even have room to squirm back from the way he came. He had to work hard to move forward.
He tried to exhale the air in his chest so he could fit through a space only 10 inches wide and 18 inches high, about the size of a clothes dryer opening.
But when John inhaled again and his chest bulged again, he finally got stuck.
John Edward Jones’ brother was the first to find him. Josh tried to pull his brother’s calf, but in vain. But then John slid deeper down the aisle and got trapped worse than ever. His arms are now pressed against his chest, unable to move at all.
Both John and Josh were devout Mormons and all they could do at the time was pray. “Guide us as we work through this,” Josh prayed. “Save me for my wife and kids,” John said.
Eventually, Josh climbed to the exit of the cave for help. But even with rescue, John was still trapped 400 feet into the cave and 100 feet below the surface. It took an hour to get people, equipment and supplies this far.
The first rescuer to find John was a woman named Susie Motola, who arrived around 12:30 a.m. on November 25. At this point, John had been trapped for three and a half hours. Motorola introduced herself to John, even though all she saw was a pair of dark blue and black running shoes.
“Hi Suzy, thanks for coming,” John said, “but I really, really want to get out.”
Over the next 24 hours, more than 100 rescuers worked frantically to free John Edward Jones from the depths of Nutty Putty Cave. Their best plan is to use a system of pulleys and ropes to free John from the dangerously tight position.
One of the rescuers on the scene, Shaun Roundy, explained the difficulties everyone, even seasoned cavers, faced getting into Nutty Putty Cave. Most passages are dangerously narrow, even at the entrances where warning signs are posted.
In 2004, in the same area of Nutty Putty Cave where John was trapped, two Boy Scouts nearly lost their lives in separate incidents. The two Boy Scouts were captured within a week. In one instance, it took rescuers 14 hours to free a 16-year-old Boy Scout — who weighs 140 pounds and is 5-foot-7, much shorter than John — using a complex series of pulleys.