Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

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Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

Postby Ralph E. Powers » Nov 29, 2009 12:45 am

elfish wrote:Having witnessed some of the events, I think it is a bad idea to leave a body in a cave for several reasons:

1. Leaving the body doesn't allow the family closure. In the case of the Colorado death, at least one family member said she'd never be resolved until the body was removed. Dealing with a unexpected death is hard enough, but having the body in a wild cave, marginally protected from vandals and vermin makes it even more difficult to resolve the loss.

2. Closing a cave is difficult even when there is no body. People always want to get into closed caves. Most gated caves get breached from time to time. As time passes and the tragedy is forgotten, there will be more and attempts to break in. Unless you fill the whole cave to the ceiling with concrete, it will eventually succeed.

3. Having a body in the cave will make it even more attractive to thrill seekers. If I remember right, Floyd Collin's body was kept in Crystal Cave for years and the body was frequently stolen and vandalized. Helen Hunt Jackson used be buried in the foothills outside Colorado Springs, but they eventually moved her to a cemetery because her body was periodically stolen. Similar problems have occurred with Buffalo Bill Cody and President Lincoln.

4. I think it sets a bad precedent. Most caves are dangerous enough that it is not uncommon for people to die in them. If you start leaving bodies and closing caves, we will have many closed caves serving as mausoleums for deceased cavers.

Some people are making a comparison to the Utah mine where miners had been killed and they chose to leave the bodies because of the danger to rescuers. However, mines are inheritly unstable and dangerous whereas caves are not. Considering that this cave has been visited by thousands of people, there is nothing to suggest it is inheritly dangerous. It does appear that one or two passages are dangerous, but you could solve that problem by blocking or widening those specific passages. It should be fairly easy to widen the passage using modern mining techniques. At the same time widening the passage would allow easy and safe body removal.

Wanting to close the cave and leave the body, is understandable as a tribute to the person, but it is just asking for long-term problems.

Elfish all of your reasons are sound indeed and I support them.
With Nutty Putty the situation is unique. In that sealing the cave wouldn't be too monumental of a task. The entrance is a 5 foot vertical hole with a belly crawl to get into the main passage. This crawl is only a mere 2-4 feet long before it (kinda opens up to a ceiling height of 1 foot and gradually gets larger until one can stand up)... there is a gate (photos of the construction can be found here: http://ralph.rigidtech.com/view_album.p ... ng-Project ) and it wouldn't take much to put several bucket loads of sand resting on a piece of plywood on the outside of the crawl opening as a plug for the sand to in turn act as a plug for the cement and it can be filled up to the surface level of the entrance with a single cement truck load.
(disclaimer: the following is not intended to be insensitive or uncaring of the deceased or his family/friends or for those who attempted to rescue him, nor is it intended to be cold uncaring chatter. If it's felt that my timing is way off on the subject matter then I humbly apologize in advance to all who may be sensitive to the subject.)
But still the body is in roughly 6-700 feet into the cave, the cave itself is hydrothermal in origin, possibly formerly a geyser at one time. The cave is very warm, if I recall (and will probably be corrected) the cave's ambient temperature was/is a tepid 74 degrees and at nearly 100% humidity, hence the muddy places that were evident when the cave was originally discovered. During the winter the cave literally blows out steam on the coldest of days, tons of (warm) air flow comes out of the entrance during certain times of the year.
A large percentage of the cave is relatively dry and very dusty. One would imagine that the body would eventually could suffer only a slight decay and mummification with the rest. There are no large or small biota that inhabit the cave, if there ever was they've long since abandoned the cave due to the huge volume of human visitors. Right now the largest creatures would be cave crickets and large black beetles. They would certainly perform the tasks that nature designed them for.
A discussion lead to the idea of sealing up just the passage where the body is. It too can be done and in such a manner that any attempts to "dig it out" would lead to massive frustration or repeated trips. Either way it is not known if the passage beyond the body has any links to other passages in the cave and the odor of decomposition would be noticeable throughout. Discussion lead to sealing up that portion of the passage and waiting upwards to a year before allowing entry back into the cave. A memorial disk can be created as a seal on the concrete plug.
The only other option is to prohibit entry to the cave via the main gate (which has been breached several times) and an additional surface gate, until such a time that the body has decomposed to the point that extraction of the remains are not as difficult. This can still be done with an appropriate amount of reverence and respect and allow better interment of the body for the family members to have closure. A plug can still be created in the passage to prevent curiosity seekers from making the same attempt.

But again the land owners are the final decision makers in this, we can protest all we want here OR we can write a petition or send letters to the SITLA organization letting them know the reasons why their decision isn't a good idea and all of that. Whatever needs or should or could be done needs to be done VERY QUICKLY. The Utah caving community is still reeling from this tragedy, many still bear an (unnecessary) burden of guilt, some may respond in concert but respectfully speaking don't expect too much help at this point. They're willing to follow whatever the powers that be decides.
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Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

Postby maryhelen » Nov 29, 2009 12:58 am

as i prepared to post this reply, i found ralph powers' post and concur with his posting in almost everything. that said, i'll go ahead and add my own thoughts.

i've been following this story from the beginning and i'm awfully sorry about the death of this man. however, i'm also downright distraught at the thought of this geologically interesting cave being closed forever because of one fatality. there is a presentation on the local grotto website by one of its members jon jasper that i found helpful. in a 14 min visual presentation, including a 3d map of the cave, he recounts the history of the locals to supervise and understand usage in that cave (the who, when, what and how of the people who went in) as well as the number, dates and circumstances of previous rescues. it was highly informative and helped me calm myself down about the 'impending closure' of the cave.

with no intention to be callous or appear to be flippant, there are many things that come to mind that describe our species homo sapiens and 2 of those descriptors are lazy and stupid. there are the scout leaders, the expedition guides and the experienced group leaders who are not to be found while the individuals they are responsible for are experiencing mother nature on their own. these lazy and/or too-fat folks are frequently to be found hanging out nearby swigging beer and telling war stories or snugged up warm and dry in their tent, sleeping bag or auto taking a snooze because they've 'got things covered.' the other group are the stupid ones, who may be young, inexperienced, overexcited, secreting excess testosterone, feeling extra frisky, or unprepared. i'm OLD and i've been exploring the out-of-doors for 50 yrs. i've known experienced people who have died out there as well as inexperienced ones who got in over their heads. in 1988, i nearly lost my own life from hypothermia and complications from multiple fractures of my left leg following my own case of 'the stupids' while hiking. thankfully, the friends who were with me were experienced and not stupid and everything worked out just fine. the truth of the matter is that any time a person is up-close exploring our natural world that things happen, sometimes bad things. however, if every cave, mountain, or river were to be closed because of a fatality, we might as well drop a nuclear bomb on everest and wall off my beloved chattooga river here in georgia.

i have questions about what happened to john jones but none about the extraordinary effort that was undertaken to extract him from the cave. i suspect that the decision to close the cave forever was made by people who were exhausted, over-taxed emotionally, feeling guilty for not being able to do the impossible, and worn down in every possible way. certainly, politics figured in somewhere. i don't know what will happen eventually but i'm hoping that in time the decision will be reconsidered. maybe they could close off the bob's push/birth canal area and mark it with a memorial plaque, leaving mr, jones entombed there. i know there is a precedent from a cave in pennsylvania where a mr. james mitchell, i believe, was left entombed and his skeletal remains were removed years later and returned to his family. presently, i only wish peace of mind, heart, and spirit to all those involved, includidng family and those who sought so long and diligently to release him and then to recover his body.

maryhelen

ps--please check out jon jasper's presentation on the nutty putty cave.
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Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

Postby Ralph E. Powers » Nov 29, 2009 2:29 am

maryhelen wrote: i suspect that the decision to close the cave forever was made by people who were exhausted, over-taxed emotionally, feeling guilty for not being able to do the impossible, and worn down in every possible way.

Re-read my last post concerning the land-owner's concerns for liability. Suppose the Jones family decides to sue... the costs of going to court alone will be ridiculous let alone any possible settlement.
The land owners have been skirting the outer edges of the courthouses everytime some organization has to be called out to rescue someone. Lawyers for the most part will seize any opportunity to find a gap in an agreement and find a large settlement for their clients (and themselves).
Now a person has died... who would the courts decide where the ultimate responsiblity lies? ....

Things to consider.
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Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

Postby Scott McCrea » Nov 29, 2009 8:39 am

Here is the referenced Jon Jasper presentation (which is excellent) about Nutty Putty Cave: http://jonjasper.com/Presentations/Savi ... PuttyCave/
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Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

Postby maryhelen » Nov 29, 2009 2:55 pm

ralph--

maybe some day the courts will decide that an individual is liable for the results of their own behavior, especially if so much effort had been made by the property owners to protect that individual from his or her self.......

and

scott--

thanks for finding and posting the link to jon patterson's presentation. and you're so right that his presentation is excellent. i hope everyone posting here will take a look.

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Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

Postby maryhelen » Nov 29, 2009 3:01 pm

oops!!!!! i didn't mean jon patterson in my previous post. i meant jon jasper. sorry.

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Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

Postby Ralph E. Powers » Nov 29, 2009 11:35 pm

This is an open letter to the Utah Caving Community by the Nutty Putty Cave Access Manager Michael Leavitt (at the bottom he gives permission to share with other cavers at our discretion. The only editing I've done was remove his phone number and home address... to allow the man some privacy ... he did leave his e-mail address and he can be contacted there with requests for his number if so desired).
Your thoughts and input are appreciated.
Fellow Cavers:

I wish to share some of my private viewpoints. My statements do not
reflect those of the grottos, the rescue agencies, or the rest of the
cave management team. Instead, they are my own and as such I will share
some insights. I am just going to type and not edit. Let me free flow a
bit and let's see what comes out through my fingertips into the
keyboard...

GUILT - As the Cave Access Manager, I still feel a guilt for pushing the
cave opening forth and for the events to have happened. I watched the
grief on the faces of our friends as they came up out of the cave
exhausted and depleted knowing they gave it their all. Many of them were
in earshot of the excruciating death that took so long to come to
fruition. I can imagine no other more ignominious way to pass from this
life through the veil.

FREE AGENCY
- I know that John had his free agency and his decisions to
explore uncharted portions of the cave brought about his death. I mourn
with his family at the loss of his passing, but I know the cave is not
responsible for his death. Nothing in the cave fell and crushed him. The
cave was not unstable and it is not the public risk that it is being
portrayed.

CRAWLING DELIGHT - As far as horizontal caves go, the Nutty Putty Cave
is a crawling delight. You can explore to whatever levels you desire. It
is a beginner to intermediate cave, with some very expert and tiny
passages. These passages are obviously small at the start and nobody is
forced to enter them.

FIRST TIME GROUP - The Jones family group was a first time to the cave
group. Although their list of experience visiting other caves was
shared, this made the group qualified to enter the cave from a
management perspective. As part of our management plan we do not require
our Trip Leaders to have visited the cave before. Should we have? I
don't feel that we should have because this is a learning ground for
caving. Instead, we expect our Trip Leaders to be the very best.

ERRORS
- This group was diverse in ages from 12 to 30 and all family. At
some point the decision was made to split the group and 26 year old John
and his 23 year old Trip Leader brother decided to explore the passage
that is not on the newer surveyed map. The access is tiny and there is
no indication that it leads to anywhere. Due to the long closure and
litle traffic through the cave in the past few years it is now very easy
to see well traveled passages. Dust/dirt covers everything that has not
received visitors. Traveled passages are indicated by polished black
stone. It is like night and day between traveled areas of the cave and
untraveled areas of the cave. We will never know why the decision was
made to force themselves into the really small untraveled passage other
than the sense of adventure.

MY AMAZEMENT - Since they had never visited the cave before I cannot
figure why they went off map. They had not been in the cave long enough
to visit all the wonderful parts of the Birth Canal and even Chris's
Crawl. I could understand if they had been to the cave so many times
that they were bored with the mapped portions of the cave, but it takes
a few trips even with the experienced guides to explore all of the
wonderful mapped passages in the cave. Why go off map? All of this was
new to the group and there was no reason to go off map.

WARNINGS - I have had to field dozens of questions as to adequate
warnings, and is the cave safe, and so on and so on. The public wants to
know the answers. Take a look at the website and download the waiver
from the site. We plead with cavers not to have and accident or death
because it will ruin it for everybody. This is a wild cave, but it is a
stable cave. The great thing about experience in caving is that it
teaches you what is safe for you. At 6'6" 200 pounds, there are
many areas of the cave that I was never ever going to experience. But at
the same stature I have seen many portions of the cave that people my
size will never experience. I can access some pretty tight places that
others cannot. What is safe for me might not be safe for you. Welcome to
caving.

IS THE CAVE BEING SINGLED OUT - The Nutty Putty Cave is being singled
out by the governing powers including government agencies, search and
rescue agencies, and people who don't like caving. That is the
reality and we all have to get over it. The normal governing agencies
are scared to death of cave rescues. Why? Because they feel so helpless.
They have all of this wonderful rescue ability, equipment, and training,
yet very little of it works below ground. Most of the equipment is too
big. Most of the normal rescue parties are too big. It is very helpless
feeling standing above ground looking at over 100 other rescue personnel
knowing that only two individuals can get anywhere near the trapped
caver at a time. All the other man power can do very little.

5 RECUES 1 DEATH - This is the ratio being shared with the
Sherriff's Department. "We have been called out to the cave 5
times in the last 10 years and this resulted in 1 death. This is an
unacceptable ratio unlike any other rescue category. For this reason
alone the cave must be closed." I loosely quoted their sentiment,
but that is how they feel about it. I, on the other hand say "5,000
cavers a year for a decade (loose approximation) with 5 rescue attempts
and 1 death. 49,994 successful trips with 5 live cavers rescued and 1
death resulting in less than an average of 1 rescue attempt every 2
years. That is a very reasonable success rate." It would be
different if the cave had done something to take the life of this caver,
but there was no instability or collapse. The death is a result of
several unacceptable decisions on the part of the group.

DOMINO AFFECT - The fear from my perspective is that the closure of
Nutty Putty will be used to bolster support for closing other caves
around the country. This sentiment has been shared with me by other cave
managers as well. Would the same decision have been reached if the body
had been recovered? Probably it still would have been closed, but not in
a permanent fashion. Why? Because we would not have to be dealing with
the opinions and feelings of the family of the deceased.

TOMB - Because the body of John Jones was left in the cave it created a
very interesting situation that has not often been encountered. The
family was left in a powerful position and the land owners agreed to
their request to permanently seal the cave and prevent further
recreational caving in the Nutty Putty Cave. If his body would have been
recovered, then we don't have a burial issue to deal with. Instead,
we have a memorial issue where we deal with the specific location and
appropriate dealing of sealing off the passage where the death occurred.

Please deal with this information for now... My 11 year old son would
like me to break away from the multi-day ordeal long enough to spend
some family time. I promise to write more and would ask that you leave a
lot of the conjecture alone. This is still a painful experience and I
look forward to hearing from other rescuers and sharing more of my own
perspective in a safe environment. I respect you all well enough to feel
like this is a safe environment.

Michael Leavitt
Nutty Putty Cave Access Manager
Michael@NuttyPuttyCave.com
http://www.NuttyPuttyCave.com
Michael@TheHomeInspector.com
http://www.TheHomeInspector.com

P.S. If you want to share this with other cavers, I will rely upon your
discretion, but share it in its entirety.
Thanks, Michael
Without the possibility of death, adventure is not possible. ~ Reinhold Messner


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Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

Postby Phil Winkler » Nov 30, 2009 9:10 am

Very nicely done presentation from Jon and Michale's letter and web site are poignant, too.

There is no evidence in the membership database that John Jones is or was an NSS member.
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Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

Postby DeanWiseman » Nov 30, 2009 3:36 pm

With all due respect to the people directly impacted by Mr. Jones' death, I think this is a situation where the NSS as a national organization needed to weigh in as a part of the public debate.

-Dean

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Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

Postby graveleye » Nov 30, 2009 5:53 pm

DeanWiseman wrote:With all due respect to the people directly impacted by Mr. Jones' death, I think this is a situation where the NSS as a national organization needed to weigh in as a part of the public debate.

-Dean

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In a way that's what we are doing here. Are you talking some sort of press release?

One thing that I am wondering about it why haven't cavers volunteered to remove his body from the cave without the help of the fire and rescue services (on an assumption that they haven't offered to do this - I haven't heard one way or another, but I'm sure someone has..). I live on the other side of the country, but if I was able in some shape or form, to help at least recover the body, I would. I'm sure there are logistical reasons behind it that I don't know about though.
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Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

Postby Caverdale » Nov 30, 2009 6:29 pm

graveleye wrote:
DeanWiseman wrote:With all due respect to the people directly impacted by Mr. Jones' death, I think this is a situation where the NSS as a national organization needed to weigh in as a part of the public debate.

-Dean

NSS#32690

In a way that's what we are doing here. Are you talking some sort of press release?

One thing that I am wondering about it why haven't cavers volunteered to remove his body from the cave without the help of the fire and rescue services (on an assumption that they haven't offered to do this - I haven't heard one way or another, but I'm sure someone has..). I live on the other side of the country, but if I was able in some shape or form, to help at least recover the body, I would. I'm sure there are logistical reasons behind it that I don't know about though.

All rescue personnel working to actually remove the victim from start to finish were in fact cavers with cave rescue training from NCRC, including one EMT with much medical training, and several expert riggers. County Fire and Rescue people were on top providing equipment, service and moral support, not in-cave work except to transfer equipment. Most of them wouldn't fit in the tube, anyway. You aren't going to find cavers more qualified that what we have. Please withhold comments until those who were involved can post what the situation was.
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Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

Postby wyandottecaver » Nov 30, 2009 7:03 pm

In response to Dean's statement of NSS involvement I think that we as a Society should issue a statement of condolences, praise for the rescue effort, and a general reaffirmation of the values caves have as biological, educational, scientific, and recreational resources.

Perhaps we could lend support to private discussions with the family and landowner agency if those are still ongoing. In the end though, Sh*t happens and I suspect that given the circumstances the wishes of the family and landowner will trump recreational demand.
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Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

Postby Stridergdm » Nov 30, 2009 10:23 pm

graveleye wrote:One thing that I am wondering about it why haven't cavers volunteered to remove his body from the cave without the help of the fire and rescue services (on an assumption that they haven't offered to do this - I haven't heard one way or another, but I'm sure someone has..). I live on the other side of the country, but if I was able in some shape or form, to help at least recover the body, I would. I'm sure there are logistical reasons behind it that I don't know about though.


Note also (in addition to Caverdale's comments) that every caver out there could volunteer, but without permission of the landowner, the family and legal authorities, they would not have any authority to act.

I'm sure there are many here who would volunteer in a heartbeat, at this point I think the best thing we can all be doing is offering our support and condolences.
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Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

Postby trogman » Dec 1, 2009 7:24 am

I noticed several folks mentioned landowner liability as one of the factors contributing to the decision to close this cave. Perhaps someone could answer this question: How do organizations such as the SCCI deal with this issue? Are they exempt for some reason that I am not aware of? I have been curious about this for quite some time, and I hope this is not too far off topic.
The whole situation is very sad indeed, but I think closing the cave makes it even more so. I hope the persons making this decision will reconsider. I doubt this is what Mr. Jones would have wanted... I told my wife that if something like this ever happens to me, I would not want the cave closed because I died in it. I understand that grief can be a powerful motivator in such situations, but it can cloud a person's judgment.

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Re: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave

Postby Tim White » Dec 1, 2009 8:03 am

trogman wrote:I noticed several folks mentioned landowner liability as one of the factors contributing to the decision to close this cave. Perhaps someone could answer this question: How do organizations such as the SCCI deal with this issue? Are they exempt for some reason that I am not aware of? I have been curious about this for quite some time, and I hope this is not too far off topic.
Stephen Brewer (The Trogman) :helmet:


If anyone wishes to comment on Stephen question, please start a new topic.

Thank you.
Be safe,
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