John Edward Jones was an experienced explorer when he embarked on an unmapped cave expedition in Utah in 2009, which tragically ended with his body sealed inside forever
A man endured the ‘worst possible death’ while exploring an unmapped cave 15 years ago, after getting stuck upside down for 28 hours.
John Edward Jones, 26, was an adventurous young man with a passion for cave exploration, but sadly it was his beloved hobby that devastatingly ended his life. On November 24, 2009, John embarked on an expedition with his brother Josh and nine others in Utah, down an unmapped cave that was not well known at the time.
It has since been dubbed the Nutty Putty Cave, a hydrothermal cave located west of Utah Lake. The dad-of-two ventured deep into the dark, labyrinthine tunnels and mistakenly took an uncharted tunnel, known as the Birth Canal. It was this misstep that trapped him 400ft from the cave’s entrance, in a 24cm-wide gap.
John became wedged in the space and was unable to move without causing serious harm to himself. The pressure on his body made it impossible to escape and a massive team of rescue workers was called to try and save his life. They attempted to use a sophisticated rope-and-pulley system to get him out, but sadly, it failed.
Despite their enormous efforts to free John from the cave, the bends his body was subjected to made any rescue attempt incredibly difficult and perilous. As the hours went on, John remained trapped in the cave, inverted and compressed. The strain on his body became unbearable, ultimately leading to cardiac arrest after 28 hours.
It was a heartbreaking moment for everyone involved in the rescue mission. The team were forced to make an agonising decision and concluded that attempting to retrieve John’s lifeless body would be too dangerous and risk further harm. So, in consultation with the landowner and John’s grieving family, it was decided the cave would be permanently sealed.
John’s body was left inside and a memorial was created above to remember his tragic and untimely death. To execute the decision, explosives were used to collapse the cave’s ceiling near John’s body, and the entrance hole was filled with concrete to prevent future access. The cave, now a solemn resting place, was closed off forever.
However, not everyone agreed with this decision. Some members of the spelunking community opposed the cave’s closure and made efforts to petition for its preservation, but their efforts were in vain. Despite attempts to seal the cave, determined cavers managed to cut their way through the gated entrance, keeping the story of John Edward Jones and the Nutty Putty Cave alive.
A film titled The Last Descent was released in 2016, shedding light on the tragedy and the impact it had on the people of Utah. The aim was to share the story with a wider audience and memorialise John’s memory. John’s brother-in-law, Dan Petersen, also organised the Nutty Putty Cycle Team and a Nutty Putty Bike Ride.
During their mission, they spoke with youth about the fatal accident at Nutty Putty, ensuring that John’s story and the lessons learned from it would continue to be passed on.
John’s wife Emily was pregnant with their second child when her husband horrifically died. At the time, they shared a daughter named Lizzie, and she was carrying their son, John. Emily grieved her last husband’s death and later remarried and had another child.
In an interview with Deseret News in 2016, she said John remains ‘a part of their family and lives’. She explained that he has “never been hard to remember” and her second husband, Donovan Sanchez, has always been “really comfortable” about discussing John. She added: “He just knows that the kids need to remember their dad so he’s good about wanting to stay in touch with the Joneses and he loves the Joneses.”