Published: Friday, Nov. 27, 2009 12:29 a.m. MST
In the end, it was about gratitude anyway.
Though his son John Jones died near midnight on Wednesday after being stuck upside down in a cave for 27 hours, the only message Leon Jones had Thursday was one of thanks.
He was quiet and somber as the family's LDS bishop read a prepared statement, but broke his silence long enough to thank the 100-plus volunteers who worked for hours to free his son. He thanked everyone who followed the story for their interest and support. For their thoughts and their prayers.
According to the family statement read by Bishop Dan Hunter, John Jones will be remembered for "his good nature, delightful sense of humor, strong work ethic, a genuine love of people, a masterful ability to relate to children, a love of and unwavering faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and his commitment to his family as an amazing husband, father, son and brother."
Jones leaves behind a wife, who is expecting the couple's second child in June, and a young daughter.
The family — including Jones' wife and daughter, parents, four brothers, two sisters and 16 nieces and nephews — said in the statement that they are grateful for the rescue efforts and know officials "did all they could to get John out," including singing LDS children's songs to help get him through the night.
"We'll never fully understand how or why it was John's time to leave us. But we find comfort knowing that he fulfilled his purpose here on Earth, and that we will be reunited with him again," the family stated, adding thanks to the many people and agencies that helped them and John. "Thank you, and God bless all of you on this Thanksgiving Day."
The efforts to rescue Jones, 26, after he became trapped 150 feet down and 700 feet inside the Nutty Putty Cave near Elberta in Utah County began Tuesday around 9 p.m. when a 911 call came in from Jones' brother, Josh.
Josh Jones said a group of 11 had entered the cave around 6:45 p.m. and that John Jones went off on his own to do some exploring. John Jones was able to make his way past a notoriously narrow crevice known as the Birth Canal before getting stuck, head-first, in an 18-inch by 10-inch gap, known as Bob's Push, described by police as an "L-shaped pinpoint."
Josh Jones said once he realized his brother was stuck, he went in, feet-first, and wrapped his ankles around his brother's legs in an effort to free him. After offering a "series of prayers," the group called 911.
Responders from more than a dozen organizations, including search and rescue volunteers and caving experts, were on the scene within an hour and began various efforts to free John Jones. They were able to free him using a rope-pulley system around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
At the time, Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Tom Hodgson said that Jones was moved so that he was level, able to stretch and take in food and water. He acknowledged that progress had been made but warned that they "weren't out of the woods."
A few hours later, as rescuers were slowly working to remove Jones, one of the anchors that had been drilled into the rock came undone, returning him to the same crevice, and head-first position that he had been in for over eight hours.
"It must have been the integrity of the rock because the anchors are usually quite reliable," said Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon. "It (the failure) wasn't how they put things together."
Though Jones had been able to keep his spirits up for the 20-plus hours preceding the setback, officials said the drop took its toll. Police were able to set up a radio network that allowed Jones to communicate with his family, who waited at the mouth of the cave for the duration of the ordeal.
Though Cannon said they were able to get some air-powered tools into the cave to chip away at some of the rock that trapped him, officials reported that Jones had difficulty breathing before he became unresponsive just before midnight. Soon after, a rescuer was able to get close enough to Jones to confirm that he had died.
Cannon said Thursday that Jones most likely died from the pressure and strain on his body combined with his inability to breathe. He was wedged around his mid-torso and upper hip area.
"Due to the circumstances with his body being held the way it was and being wedged, it was most likely difficult to get a full deep breath," Cannon said. "It would have affected his ability to breathe adequately."
In the meantime, the death of Jones, the first in the cave to date, has prompted officials to re-evaluate the monitoring of the cave since it became a controlled access point in 2004. Sheriff's officials declared the cave a public hazard Thursday and closed all access to the area. For the time being, it will be guarded by uniformed deputies. Cannon said they are considering a number of options for the cave, including permanent closure, but a final decision won't be made until state government officials can provide input.
At this point, there is still the question of how to remove Jones' body, a process that presents the same problems that plagued rescuers all along.
"We're still in the uncertainty phase in terms of how they're going to bring Jones out," Cannon said Thursday. "We're back to where we were (during the) 27 hours, and once we get him unstuck it's still a two- or three-hour process of getting him back up."
Rescuers had all left the scene as of 11 a.m. Thursday, and Cannon said officials were hoping to have a plan for the recovery efforts and the future of the cave this morning.
John Jones met his wife, Emily, at BYU, and the pair were married in 2006. He was attending medical school at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, hoping to become a pediatric cardiologist. He was in town for the Thanksgiving holiday.
A memorial service will be held Saturday in Stansbury Park. The family has set up a memorial fund for Jones' wife and children at Wells Fargo Bank and the Universal Community Credit Union, which will be available for donations starting this morning.
History of Nutty Putty Cave
- 1960 — Discovered by Salt Lake City resident Dale Green
- July 1999 — Chris Morrow and Chris Hale trapped more than 12 hours, rescued with minor cuts and bruises
- March 2001 — Two Boy Scouts trapped several hours, rescued unharmed
- August 2004 — Brock Clark trapped several hours, rescued unharmed
- September 2004 — David Crowther trapped eight hours, rescued unharmed
- September 2007 — Cave closed
- March 2009 — New management plan signed with Timpanogos Grotto, including online reservations
- Nov. 26, 2009 — John Jones trapped 27 hours, died
Source: www.nuttyputtycave.com, Deseret News archives
Contributing: Wendy Leonard, Lana Groves