John Jones: Tragedy at Nutty Putty Cave

An article by:
9th February 2024  •  6 min read

During an exploration of Nutty Putty Cave in Utah, John Jones became stuck in a crevice that was just eight to ten inches in height.


John Jones: Tragedy at Nutty Putty Cave

Morbidology Podcast

The article continues below

Morbidology is a weekly true crime podcast created and hosted by Emily G. Thompson. Using investigative research combined with primary audio, Morbidology takes an in-depth look at true crime cases from all across the world.


Nutty Putty Cave is a natural limestone cave located in Utah County, Utah, in the United States. It’s known for its intricate and challenging underground passages, and is accessed by a hole on top of a hill about seven miles west of State Road 68. While it’s not a large cave in terms of its overall size, it gained notoriety in the spelunking community due to its difficult and narrow passages. Spelunking refers to the exploration of caves, especially as a hobby, and for years, Nutty Putty Cave was a favourite, with around 5,000 visitors per year.

The cave was formed through the process of dissolution, where acidic groundwater gradually dissolved the limestone bedrock over the course of millions of years, creating a network of tunnels and chambers underground. One of the most notable features of Nutty Putty Cave is the “Birth Canal,” a particularly tight passage that challenges even experienced cavers. This narrow passage earned its name due to the contorted shape that resembles a birth canal. Navigating through it requires careful maneuvering and can be physically demanding.

John Jones: Tragedy at Nutty Putty Cave
The entrance of Nutty Putty Cave

On November 24, 2009, 26-year-old John Jones embarked on an expedition to Nutty Putty Cave with a group of 11 friends, including his brothers. Hailing from a large family deeply rooted in outdoor adventures, John had spent his formative years camping across Utah alongside his father, Leon, and his brothers. Raised in St. George, he had explored numerous caves in the area, honing his skills in navigating through tight spaces. Despite his expertise in cave exploration, John’s primary pursuit was in medicine; he was a medical student at the University of Virginia with aspirations of specializing in paediatric cardiology. Known for his remarkable ability to connect with children, John was well-suited for the role.1

Before pursuing his medical career, John attended Dixie High School, where he excelled in basketball and served as the senior class president. It was during his time at Brigham Young University that he met his wife, Emily. They exchanged vows in 2006, and their family expanded with the arrival of their daughter, Lizzie, who was 14 months old at the time of the cave expedition. The couple had recently received the news of Emily’s pregnancy and were eagerly anticipating the birth of their second child the following June.

Around 8PM, John and the group arrived at Nutty Putty Cave. Although John had not previously explored this particular cave, his past experience and confidence in his abilities reassured him, despite not having spelunked for several years. Despite Nutty Putty Cave having been the site of rescues in the past, including incidents involving stranded Boy Scouts in 2009, these tales did little to dissuade John and his companions.

 As they navigated through the narrow passages of the cave, roughly an hour into their exploration, John expressed a desire to locate one of the tightest passages known as “The Birth Canal.” Despite already being approximately 700 feet into the cave and 150 feet below ground level, John, standing at six feet tall and weighing around 200 pounds, carefully maneuvered himself through the cave. Eventually, he found himself squeezing head-first into a passage measuring a mere 18 inches in width and 8 to 10 inches in height. Believing he had located The Birth Canal, John soon realized his error, that he had ventured in the wrong direction.

John found himself wedged upside down in a notorious section of the cave known as “Bob’s Push,” a tunnel even more restrictive than The Birth Canal.2 Despite his hopes that the tight space would lead to a larger opening, he had inadvertently entered a dead-end section. His brother, Josh, recounted the harrowing moment: “He got to a point where he couldn’t back out. He got himself wedged into a vertical crevice upside down.”3

John Jones: Tragedy at Nutty Putty Cave
A diagram showing how John Jones was stuck

Josh, who was trailing closely behind John, quickly realized his brother’s predicament. Despite his efforts to pull John back up the crevice, every inch gained was lost as soon as he released his grip. Determined to seek help, Josh reassured John before leaving him in the company of another friend. Around 9:30PM, rescue workers were alerted and swiftly made their way to Nutty Putty Cave’s entrance, preparing to navigate to John’s location. Among the first responders was Susie Motola, who reached the opening of the tight crevice. Upon hearing her voice, John responded, “Hi Susie, thanks for coming but I really, really want to get out.”4

Approximately 100 rescue workers from agencies across the Wasatch Front were mobilised to assist in freeing John from the crevice. Given the critical nature of his predicament, time was of the essence. John’s inverted position posed significant risks to his circulation, potentially resulting in complications such as confusion, nausea, and unconsciousness due to a rush of blood to his head. Utah County Sheriff’s Sergeant Spencer Cannon addressed the public regarding the rescue operation, bluntly stating: “He’s just plain, flat stuck.”5

The rescue teams rapidly devised and attempted various strategies. Employing compressed air-powered tools, they endeavoured to break the rock surrounding John, yet the formidable material and his awkward position rendered this approach nearly futile. Because of the limited space, jackhammers couldn’t be used, and one rescuer who was working with a ball-peen hammer could only swing six inches to try and chip away at the rock.6

Next, they employed a rope and pulley system attached to John’s legs; however, the effectiveness of this method was hindered by John’s constrained position, as his feet obstructed straightforward extraction. Compounded by the confined dimensions of the crevice, only one rescue worker could be in proximity to John at any time, exacerbating the challenges of the rescue operation.

By 4PM the following day, rescue teams had successfully retracted John more than a dozen feet using ropes and pulleys, retracing his path backward. Despite the progress, John remained confined within the narrow space. Nonetheless, a moment of emotional relief occurred when John was able to communicate with his wife via the police radio. Recalling the exchange, his father, Leon Jones, remarked: “He was able to hear her. It really perked him up.”7

However, the challenging circumstances persisted as John’s feet and legs made contact with the ceiling of the small L-shaped crevice, preventing further extraction. Faced with this dilemma, the crew found themselves once again brainstorming solutions. In a desperate consideration, they even contemplated the possibility of breaking John’s legs to facilitate his removal from the crevice, but feared he would go into cardiac arrest. As they continued trying to think of ways to rescue John, his breathing was becoming weaker and weaker; his heart needed to work twice as hard against the gravity to push the continuous flow out of his brain.

As the rescue team attempted to pull John further from out of the crevice, the rope and pulley system suddenly gave way, plunging John deeper into the cave. John, struggling for breath, uttered in despair: “I’m going to die right here. I’m not going to come out of here, am I?” His words hung heavy in the air as silence suddenly engulfed him and the rescue crew, his breathing gradually slowing down. Exhaustion weighed heavily on him—from the ordeal of the rescue mission, the constricting confines of the crevice, and the disorienting sensation of being upside down, blood rushing to his head.8

Approximately 27 hours into the grueling rescue effort, John’s heart went into cardiac arrest. Shortly before midnight on November 25th, a paramedic pronounced him dead. In a statement released by his family, they commemorated John’s memory, affirming: “He will be remembered for his good nature, charming sense of humor, strong work ethic, genuine love for people, masterful ability to relate to children, and unwavering love and faith.”

John’s funeral took place on November 26th, where the family’s bishop, Dan Hunter, solemnly led the service. Reflecting on the harrowing circumstances of John’s final moments, Bishop Hunter addressed the mourners, acknowledging: “John’s last 24-some hours were spent trapped in a dark, tight crevice deep within Nutty Putty Cave. We know he fought with all he had to persevere and not lose hope.”

Tragically, John’s body remained unrecovered within Nutty Putty Cave, becoming his eternal resting place. Recognizing the complexity and danger involved in extraction, John’s family made the difficult decision not to pursue recovery efforts. Consequently, on November 28th, Nutty Putty Cave was sealed with John’s body still inside. As a tribute to John’s memory, his family installed a memorial plaque at the cave’s entrance. His brother, Josh, expressed: “It is a place to honor and respect our brother.”

John Jones: Tragedy at Nutty Putty Cave
4.2 51 votes
Article Rating

Footnotes:

  1. The Salt Lake Tribune, 26 November, 2009 – “Man Who Dies in Cave had Robust Life”
  2. Salt Lake City Examiner, 25 November, 2009 – “Man Trapped in Utah’s Nutty Putty Cave”
  3. NPR, 25 November, 2009 – “Man Stuck in Utah Cave Dies”
  4. The Salt Lake Tribune, 9 July, 2018 – “Nutty Putty: I Really, Really Want to Get Out”
  5. Casper Star-Tribune, 26 November, 2009 – “Stuck Man Gets Assistance”
  6. Daily Herald, 28 November, 2009 – “Nutty Putty Cave Will be Permanently Sealed with Body Inside”
  7. The Salt Lake Tribune, 25 November, 2009 – “Cave Keeps Grim Grip on Stranded Explorer”
  8. The Salt Lake Tribune, 10 July, 2018 – “Nutty Putty: We’re Going to Get You Out”

Comments:

Subscribe
Notify me of
guest

16 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jacqueline Goldsmith
Jacqueline Goldsmith
3 months ago

I can’t imagine what he was going through in his last few hrs. I’ve watched the film on this , also
Thank you for the article

vxr876
vxr876
3 months ago

Ah well… You mess with nature don’t expect a happy ending

asdfg
asdfg
3 months ago

what is the name of that movie?

isu
isu
3 months ago
Reply to  asdfg

the last descent. i think

John McLean
John McLean
3 months ago

No offense, but I laughed all the way through this article. This is human stupidity at its finest.

Barry
Barry
3 months ago
Reply to  John McLean

Wow John. You’re a total cunt.

jungle book
jungle book
3 months ago
Reply to  John McLean

motherfucker

Cheryl
Cheryl
3 months ago
Reply to  John McLean

Jackass is human stupidity at its finest. This is not. You need a hobby.

Levi
Levi
3 months ago

That is very sad. I can’t imagine what he went through.

Trap
Trap
3 months ago

Stupid way to die. I would never put myself in a position like that.

Heather
Heather
3 months ago
Reply to  Trap

wow, good for you!

Dee
Dee
3 months ago
Reply to  Trap

Do you honestly think that John intended for that to happen!!?! It’s a tragic situation for all that were involved.

Koalos Garcia
Koalos Garcia
3 months ago

This story is Tragic and a nightmare for me, I had been up in a ceiling space which was very hot doing some repairs when suddenly i found my self wedged.in an area of 1×2 ft,i have never had a panic attack before till then and it was horrible.i had shortness of breath,a raging heart beat and almost passed out.

ZGal
ZGal
3 months ago

i felt panicked reading this. I can’t imagine how scary that must have been for everyone, not just John, but everyone involved

Jason.M
Jason.M
3 months ago

You’d have to be extremely stupid to end up like that!

VeeM
VeeM
1 month ago

A bit late to the party. I’ll look for the article (or was it a forum post from Susie?). There’s a ton more details… The pulley system attempt was semi successful because they were able to bring him back out a bit but the system failed and when it gave way he plunged even deeper and got even more stuck. Another tidbit; one of the rescuers got a pulley to the face when the system gave way and shattered his jaw – the system failed because the stone was too brittle to keep the hooks in and they couldn’t try… Read more »

You may also like:

16
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x