The Nutty Putty Cave was a popular spelunking site in Utah that is now the gravesite and last resting spot of 26-year-old John Jones. On the 24th of November in 2009, Jones became stuck upside down in the Nutty Putty Cave for over 25 hours until he finally passed away. Rescuers could not pull John Jones from the Nutty Putty and instead blocked the cave off to stop other thrill seekers from endangering themselves.
Ready For The Challenge
John Jones was raised in a large family in Utah as a devoted Mormon. As a child, Jones developed an interest in cave diving with his brother Josh. Both boys were extremely competitive in school and excelled in basketball and football as well.
After highschool Jones married his college sweetheart Emily and then entered a pediatric cardiologist program in Virginia. Jones was back in Utah for Thanksgiving break and to spend time with his wife and child. He would soon learn that Emily was pregnant with another child, a fact that would give John motivation to escape the Nutty Putty Cave.
Experts estimate that of the 6,000 groups that visited the Nutty Putty Cave per year, 90% arrived unprepared. By 2009, the Nutty Putty Cave system had gained the reputation of trapping the less experienced divers, requiring multiple search and rescue events through the years.
Once you enter the cave, there is an initial drop of 15 feet. Once inside, the explorer can travel down one of two main shafts that extend up to a mile each. Venturing further inside the Nutty Putty Cave, the spelunker must negotiate vertical drops of up to 10 feet and "crawl Marine-style through several inches of water before the cavern opens up."
The primary interest of the cave is a section known as the 'birth canal’, which forms a small circular passageway that leads to a larger opening. The Nutty Putty's birth canal is where most explorers become stuck. In 1999, two teenagers were stuck in the birth canal for nearly 20 hours before being rescued. They rescued another two teens on Labor Day weekend in 2004. One resident laments about the cave, "just because you got in doesn't mean you can get out." Since the discovery of the Nutty Putty cave in the 1960s, there had been no fatalities until John Jones entered 2009.
Sucked In Air
John Jones believed he was entering the birth canal section of the Nutty Putty, but he mistakenly found himself in a section known as ‘Ed's Push,’ which was a much tighter squeeze at 18 inches wide. This means that the 6 foot and 200 pound Jones needed to suck in air before attempting to push through. He also made the fatal mistake of entering head first.
Susie Motola was the first rescuer to access John's situation inside the Nutty Putty and she immediately saw that the situation was dire. John's arms were pinned to his sides and only his calves were free to move, although they provided little help in freeing the stuck man.
Motola said that bringing John Jones out of the Nutty Putty Cave would be like "swimming backwards against a very strong current."
“Hi, John, my name is Susie. How’s it going?”
The reply seemed to come from the other end of a long hallway.
“Hi, Susie, thanks for coming, but I really, really want to get out,” said 26-year-old John Jones.
“Oh, no worries, John,” she told him. “You’re going to be out of here lickety split.”
Racing Against Time
As the hours progressed, John Jones's situation became worse. He began hallucinating, only waking up to violent reactions and further inching his way down.
Being suspended upside down for a short time can be very beneficial to the body, but if the body stays suspended that way too long, problems quickly arise.
The human body keeps the organs in an upright and stacked position. Countering this natural stance by being upside down can cause the blood to circulate slower, as it now has to push against gravity instead of with it. Blood vessels begin to rupture and brain hemorrhaging may occur. The heart becomes overwhelmed with an excess of blood intake and began to shut down vital organs.
Eventually, you die.
At 15 hours, John Jones' voice became nasally, and he drifted in and out of consciousness.
The rescue crew brought a communication line down so he could hear his wife's voice for a last time. According to his father, this "perked him up".
“I’m so sorry. Father, just get me out of here. Save me for my wife and kids,” John said.
I love you! Just keep fighting!” Emily’s voice crackled through the box. John yelled, and Ryan could hear he was crying. “I love you! I love you! Tell Lizzie I love her! I’ll get out, and I’ll come see you!”
Emily revealed she was pregnant with John's second child.
At 28 hours upside down in the Nutty Putty Cave, rescuers attempted one last pull using a series of complex pulleys. Unfortunately, the pulley system failed and Jones sank deeper into the hole.
Sgt. Spencer Cannon, with the Utah County Sheriff's Office, said, "They had him to a level spot where he wasn't heading downhill with his head below his feet. During the course of that, they have a raising system to hold him in position, and one of the devices of that system failed, and Mr. Jones actually fell back to the area where he had been stuck for so long."
"Getting people to him where they can actually help him, or removing material – which is one of the efforts they're trying – and getting access to be able to do that is very difficult," Cannon said.
John Jones is still inside the Nutty Putty Cave, which has been sealed and memorialized in his honor.