Nutty Putty Cave Tragedy Still Discussed In Training 10 Years Later

Nov 9, 2019, 8:57 PM | Updated: Nov 10, 2019, 7:05 pm

PROVO, Utah – For many people, the images of rescuers and ropes standing above a small hole in the ground is what they remember of Nutty Putty Cave.

They might also remember the man, 26-year old John Jones, who was stuck in there in November of 2009.

Rescuers thought they were going to free him, but after pieces of the cave wall broke from being anchored and pulled by ropes and straps, everyone knew there wasn’t much more that could be done with the limited time they had.

It’s a lesson Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon spoke about Saturday morning during a conference of Emergency Medical Service first responders.

“What if none of your plans work?” asked Sgt. Cannon to a crowd of hundreds of first responders. “What if the unexpected happens? What if something happens that you can’t anticipate?”

Rescuers always think they’re going to save someone, especially if the person is alive when they reach them.

However, cases like Nutty Putty prove that doesn’t always happen.

“There was an area prior to where John got stuck that he went through that was about this size,” said Sgt. Cannon while holding up a small square barely large enough to go over his chest. “That’s the amount of space we had to work. Of the dozens of rescuers, we had that day, only five were small enough to go down there and get to him.”

Jones was never freed from the spot where he got stuck and eventually died in the cave, about 28 hours after he couldn’t go any further.

He left behind his wife, who was pregnant, and another child.

It’s a story many people remember because of the tragic way in which he died.

It’s also an operation many first responders and search & rescue teams who were involved that day still talk about.

“Absolutely. I think the day that you think that you’ve seen it all and learned it all, you should retire,” said Dr. Doug Murdock, who was also at this morning’s conference and was the person who pronounced Jones dead on that cold November day.

The lesson for responders is, sometimes, even when you do everything right, it might not make a difference.

“It was not an outcome we anticipated at the outset and certainly really weren’t prepared for at the end,” said Sgt. Cannon. “I don’t question that things were done wrong or there was more that could have been done because I don’t believe there was. Based on how John was stuck, I think everything that could be done was done. And there were resources in place that could have gotten him out had there been time.”

There was talk originally about trying to remove his body from the cave even after he died, but everyone, including family, decided to leave him there.

With all the search and rescue calls to the cave, the entrance to Nutty Putty was sealed off with concrete and has been closed ever since.


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Nutty Putty Cave Tragedy Still Discussed In Training 10 Years Later