(25 November 2009, Utah) As is true of many other Darwin Awards, the unfortunate demise of John J. is a cautionary tale that may save the lives of others.
Nutty Putty Cave, named for its soft brown clay, was discovered in 1960. This naturally formed thermal cave is 1400 feet long, narrow, with multiple passageways and room-size openings. To explore Nutty Putty Cave, spelunkers must have experience, or travel with a guide. These rules were imposed in 2006 after six incidents of people getting stuck in its narrow passages, requiring rescue.
By all accounts, John, 26, was an experienced caver. This avid explorer lived a life of adventure, including spelunking in vertical caves more difficult than Nutty Putty. John was aware of the dangers, but perhaps his full life had made him a bit overconfident. Once his group was inside the cave, John split off and navigated a solo path. At the end of a difficult stretch of passages that twisted and turned in sharp angles over uneven ground, he found an unmapped finger and tried to squeeze his 6-foot tall, 200-pound body through the opening.
When a narrow passage must be navigated, spelunkers know that the safest method is feet-first, making it easier to climb back out. John slithered into the 10"x18" opening head-first, and there he remained, jammed in the tiny slot.
He was located, of course. Nutty Putty Cave is small enough that one cannot stay missing for long. All told, 137 people were involved in the exhausting rescue effort, using air-powered tools and a system of pulleys and ropes to extract the caver. Despite their best efforts, the crevice was too small to accomodate a rescue. John was wedged in an area where the cave peters down to nothing, and nothing could be done.
After 26 hours, he expired.
John J. was not the first to get stuck in Nutty Putty Cave, but he will be the last. To the consternation of many caving enthusiasts, the mouth of the cave was sealed with concrete on December 3, 2009, permanently entombing the body of the erstwhile caver. Cavern explorers had hoped that authorities would seal only the dangerous corridor enclosing his remains.
Dale Green, the 80-year-old who discovered the cave, said that spelunking is like mountain climbing. "It's as safe as you want to make it."
SIDEBAR: "Although many people enjoy this pursuit safely, the National Speleological Society warns that the dangers of spelunking include falling down pits, being crushed by rocks, drowning, hypothermia, and slowly starving to death. They add that 'the rewards are worth the misery and risks.'"
Reader comment: "K-Y Needed"
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Submitted by: Erin
Reference: Deseret News, Christian Science Monitor, Salt Lake Tribune, AP, UPI
"His wife was expecting their second child, does this
not not disqualify him as his genes have been passed on?" -Jonathan
1. Darwin Awards Rules, regarding reproduction.
2. Advanced discussion of offspring.
"Isn't this improper by your own rules? He was knowingly engaged in
a dangerous sport, but was not outstandingly stupid in how he went about it.
A minor misjudgement is not supposed to net a Darwin."
The incident involved two serious misjudgments: going it alone,
and going it feet first, in a cave that was well-known to have trapped
people in its narrow twisties. If only he had been more cautious..."