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Man who died in Utah cave was an experienced spelunker [Updated]

Undated family photo shows John Jones holding his daughter Elizabeth.

The man who died after being stuck upside-down in a Utah cave for more than 24 hours was an experienced spelunker, according to his family.

John Jones died early Thursday morning nearly 28 hours after becoming stuck in a small hole in Utah's Nutty Putty Cave.

"He had explored many caves and maneuvered his way through many tight spaces before," his family said in a statement released late Thursday.

Rescuers were shocked and saddened by the news of his death. At one point, Jones was actually freed from the crevice enough to get him sustenance, but he fell back into the tight space when an anchor in the cave wall supporting the pulley system being used came free from the rock.

While the death is the first known fatality in the cave, Jones was the third spelunker in recent years to get stuck in the same narrow passageway, according to an Associated Press article.

Search and rescue workers successfully pulled two people from the same location -- known as Bob's Push -- in separate incidents in 2004.

"Caving isn't generally considered to be a dangerous sport," said Utah County Sheriff's Department spokesman Sgt. Spencer Cannon. "But I think you can safely say this is a dangerous spot in that cave."

The entire Nutty Putty Cave is now closed until a decision is made about its future.

[Updated at 2:30 p.m.: State and county officials announced that the cave where Jones died will be closed permanently and his body will not be removed. Officials plan to meet Monday to discuss the best way to permanently close the cave.]

Tragically, the 26-year-old Jones leaves behind his wife, Emily, who is expecting the couple's second child, and a 13-month-old daughter.

--Kelly Burgess

Photo: Undated family photo shows John Jones holding his daughter Elizabeth. Credit: Associated Press/Jones Family

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Comments (2)

First of all, my most heartfelt condolences to the family for such a tragic, unexpected, and untimely loss. That being said, I'm disappointed in the decision to permanently seal the cave. I might be persuaded to agree that sealing Bob's Push is probably a good idea, as it is the spot in the cave that has necessitated several rescue attempts, (and without an apparent way to remove the body, I don't know why you'd want to visit that spot anyway). However, closing nutty putty cave all together seems worse, in the long run, than the loss of a life. I enjoy caving, just like John did, and will feel the loss of a great spelunking spot, and I don't imagine I'm the only one. As long as people understand the risk, I feel they should be allowed to decide for themselves whether they are capable of undertaking an expedition or not. They don't close down Everest, despite the many deaths that have occurred during various ascents. It is part of human nature to want to pit oneself against difficult obstacles, even if it means that we lose once in a while. If its a choice between risking death to feel alive, or living a mundane life without feeling, I choose the prior.

I don't think the cave should be permanently closed. After Jones' body decomposes enough, (Yes, I know that sounds terrible.) a crew should be able to pull him free. I'm sure the family rather have his body than leave it there.


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Outposts' primary contributor is Kelly Burgess.