The heartbreaking story of John Edward Jones, who was stuck inside Nutty Putty Cave for more than a day before dying there in 2009.
With his family, John Edward Jones enjoyed spelunking. When he was a boy, his father would take him and his brother, Josh, on caving trips in Utah. The boys grew to appreciate the gloomy beauty of the deep depths.
John’s first trip to Nutty Putty Cave, southwest of Utah Lake and roughly 55 miles from Salt Lake City, was unfortunately his last.
Fun Just Before ThanksGiving
On the evening of Nov. 24, 2009, a few days before Thanksgiving, John Edward Jones entered Nutty Putty Cave around 8 p.m. local time. John, who was 26 at the time, and Josh, 23, agreed to explore Nutty Putty Cave with nine other friends and family members as a chance to bond before the holiday.
John was 26 years old and in the prime of his life. He was married with a one-year-old daughter and studying medicine in Virginia. He’d returned home to Utah for the holidays to spend time with his family.
Things did not go exactly as planned.
John hadn’t been inside a cave in years. He wasn’t the little youngster he used to be, standing six feet tall and weighing 200 pounds.
John opted to find the Nutty Putty Cave formation known as the Birth Canal about an hour into the caving excursion, a tight hole that spelunkers must carefully crawl through if they dare. He discovered what he believed to be the Birth Canal and crept into the tight channel head first, propelling himself forward with his hips, stomach, and fingers. Within minutes, however, he knew he’d made a big mistake.
John realized he was almost stranded and didn’t have any room to turn around. He couldn’t even turn around and go back the way he’d come. He had to make an effort to move forward.
He tried to exhale the air in his lungs to squeeze through a space that was only 10 inches broad and 18 inches high, about the size of a clothes dryer opening.
When John inhaled again and his chest inflated back up, he became permanently stuck.
The first person to locate John Edward Jones was his brother. Josh tried unsuccessfully to pull on his brother’s calves. But then John sank much deeper into the channel, trapping himself even more than before. He couldn’t move since his arms were locked beneath his chest.
At this time, all John and Josh, both devoted Mormons, could do was pray. Josh prayed, “Guide us as we work through this.” John said, “Save me for my wife and kids.”
Josh eventually made his way to the cave’s outlet in search of assistance. Even after rescue arrived, John was stuck 400 feet into the cave and 100 feet below the surface of the Earth. It took an hour to get people, equipment, and supplies down that far.
Susie Motola, a woman, was the first rescuer to reach John, arriving around 12:30 a.m. on November 25. John had been imprisoned for three and a half hours at that point. Motola introduced herself to John, despite the fact that she could only see his blue and black running shoes.
“Thank you for coming, Susie,” John continued, “but I really, really need to get out.”
Over 100 rescuers labored nonstop for the next 24 hours to release John Edward Jones from the depths of Nutty Putty Cave. The best strategy they had was to try to remove John from his dangerously tight situation using a system of pulleys and ropes.
One of the rescuers on the site, Shaun Roundy, described the difficulties that anyone entering Nutty Putty Cave would face, even experienced spelunkers. Even at the entrance, where warning signs had been placed, the majority of the corridors were dangerously tiny.
A History Of Disaster
Two Boy Scouts were nearly killed in different events in the same location of Nutty Putty Cave where John was stranded in 2004. Within a week of each other, the two Boy Scouts were trapped. Using a sophisticated set of pulleys, rescue personnel required 14 hours to liberate a 16-year-old Scout who weighed 140 pounds and stood 5’7′′ tall, making him significantly smaller than John.
After the Boy Scouts’ tragedy in 2004, officials decided to close Nutty Putty Cave. When John and his family visited the cave in 2009, it had just been reopened for six months.
Time was running out for John Edward Jones, who was imprisoned inside the cave. The downward angle in which John was locked was putting a lot of strain on his body because it needs the heart to work extremely hard to continuously pump blood out of the brain (clearly, when the body is right side up, gravity does the work and the heart isn’t burdened).
A rope connected to a system of pulleys was used to bind John. They prepared everything and pulled as hard as they could. One of the pulleys abruptly and unexpectedly failed. Roundy believes the pulley sprang free at its anchor point in the cave wall, which is filled with loose clay.
The rope-and-pulley operation had failed, and the rescuers had run out of options. John was stranded.
Even years after the incident, Roundy replays the rescue in his memory over and over. “I went over the entire mission, wishing we’d done this or that differently or a little sooner.” But there’s no point in second-guessing yourself. “We gave it our all.”
In the Nutty Putty Cave, a Tragic Death
John was confirmed dead of cardiac arrest shortly before midnight on November 25, 2009, with no possibility of rescue and his heart having been strained for hours due to his downward posture. Rescuers had been trying to save John for 27 hours. Despite the tragic news, his family hailed rescuers for their assistance.
On the night of John’s death, Nutty Putty Cave lived up to its name. Dale Green discovered it in 1960 and christened it Nutty Putty because of the clay found in most of the underground structure’s short tunnels (the kind that likely caused that pulley to fail). In its height, the cave attracted up to 25,000 visitors each year.
But no one will ever venture back into the cave.
A week after John’s death, officials permanently closed Nutty Putty Cave. For fear of more deaths as a result of such an operation, they never recovered his body, which remains within to this day.
Isaac Halasima developed and directed a full-length feature film about John Jones’ life and unsuccessful rescue attempt in 2016. It’s called The Last Descent and it accurately depicts John’s journey, including what it’s like to be confined in the narrowest of cave corridors as claustrophobia and despondency set in.
Halasima, a Utah native, had only visited Nutty Putty Cave once before. He never got past the front door.
“I’d entered it from the front and said, ‘That’s it, that’s enough.'”
Nutty Putty Cave, which is now shut, acts as a natural memorial and cemetery for John Edward Jones.
- Why Utah’s Nutty Putty Cave Is Sealed Up With One Spelunker Inside. John James became stuck upside down in this cave and waited 28 hours until his death which he knew was coming”. June 19, 2018. Archived from the original on May 18, 2021. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
- Morgan, Emiley (November 26, 2009). “Man trapped in Utah County’s Nutty Putty cave dies”. Deseret News. Archived from the original on December 18, 2019.
- History”. The Nutty Putty Cave Official Website. Archived from the original on May 15, 2009.