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

November 27, 2009 |  1:21 pm

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