The Worst Death Imaginable: Trapped Upside Down in a Cave



There are millions of ways to die, some less pleasant than others. What happened to a young explorer deep in the bowels of Utah’s famous cave system takes the cake as the worst death imaginable. John Edward Jones, 26, was a medical student and experienced spelunker who went cave diving with a group of friends while visiting family in Utah for Thanksgiving 2009. The group ventured into the Nutty Putty Cave, a popular spelunking spot known for its tight twists, turns and crawls. John decided to try and find the formation known as the “birth canal” — an incredibly narrow vertical passage. His tragic mistake was thinking he could squeeze into the same spaces as a 6-foot man that he did when he was younger and smaller. He inched his way into the cave head first, wiggling forward. Within minutes, he realized he was stuck, with no room to turn around or even go backwards. His only option was to keep moving forward. He exhaled air from his chest so he could fit through the L-shaped pinpoint, which was just 10 inches across and 18 inches high. Unfortunately, when he breathed in again, his chest expanded and he was wedged inside for good. Rescuers from the Utah Count Sheriff’s office arrived and began an extraction attempt, and were eventually able to partially free John using a rope-pulley system. By that point, John had been hanging upside down for more than eight hours. He was given an IV drip and some food and water, but there was a heartbreaking twist. An equipment failure caused the rope system to plunge John back into the same cap he’d been trapped in previously, and the rescue was back to square one. After more than 24 hours trapped upside down, the pressure and stress on John's body became too much. One rescuer was able to get close enough to pronounce him dead of cardiac arrest. The rescue mission became a body recovery operation, but it wasn't long before it became apparent that it would simply be too dangerous to get John out of the passage. Ultimately the decision was made to leave him in place. The entrance to Nutty Putty Cave was boarded up and declared a public health hazard. About a week later concrete was poured into the main opening of the cave, sealing John inside forever. Today, a memorial plaque to John stands near the entrance to Nutty Putty Cave.