Man exploring Bloomington Cave falls ill, nephew runs for help

Bloomington Cave located 15 miles southwest of St. George where a man in his 50s became ill while exploring with family and was rescued by two SAR teams Thursday, Washington County, Utah, Nov. 24, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Darrell Cashin, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A day exploring the Bloomington Cave on Thursday turned into a 10 hour rescue effort to help a man trapped by exhaustion make his way out of the subterranean cavern to rejoin his family.

High angle SAR team member making his way down the deep cavern in the Bloomington Cave to rescue an ill man Thursday, Washington County, Utah, Nov. 24, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Darrell Cashin, St. George News
High angle SAR team member making his way down the deep cavern in the Bloomington Cave to rescue an ill man Thursday, Washington County, Utah, Nov. 24, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Darrell Cashin, St. George News

Just before 3 p.m. Thursday dispatch received a call reporting that a man in his 50s was experiencing nausea, was partially alert, and was breathing heavily from exhaustion while exploring in the Bloomington Cave. He was unable to climb out of the challenging maze of passages on his own, Washington County Search and Rescue Liaison Darrell Cashin said.

Cashin was alerted to the man’s condition by the St. George Communications Center and quickly assembled two teams, including the high angle rescue team and the ground EMS team, which were then dispatched to the location.

As the rescue teams made their way to the area they found the ill man’s nephew, who had called 911 after climbing outside the cave when his uncle fell ill. The man’s nephew then guided rescuers to his uncle’s location inside the cave, Cashin said.

“This man was all the way down into the cave, at the bottom,” the deputy said, “just about as far as you can go.”

Rescuers reached the man who had been exploring the cave with a small group of family members, who were waiting beside him.

The man was checked for injuries or an underlying condition that could have contributed to his difficulties by a high angle team member and nurse. He was found to be extremely exhausted and unable to make it out of the cave unassisted.

Map showing numerous passageways and narrow caverns where a man in his 50's became ill while exploring with family and was rescued by two SAR teams Thursday, Washington County, Utah, Nov. 24, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Darrell Cashin, St. George News
Map showing numerous passageways and narrow caverns where a man in his 50s became ill while exploring with family and was rescued by two SAR teams Thursday, Washington County, Utah, Nov. 24, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Darrell Cashin, St. George News

The rescue effort was complicated by the nature of the Bloomington Cave, the fifth largest cave in the state, which includes a maze of narrow passages with steep, dipping floors, and is more than a mile long.

Navigating through the different areas requires crawling, climbing, moving on slippery surfaces and squeezing through tight passages, according to information obtained from the Bureau of Land Management.

Rescuers attempted to assist the man through several different routes that either proved too difficult for the hiker to navigate in his exhausted state, or other routes with narrow passages that could have placed the man at risk.

“The worst thing would be for the man to become stuck in a narrow passage, and then to have a complication while he’s already exhausted, and having a difficult time.”

Several rescuers were also sent out ahead of the team to possibly locate an easier route out of the cave, but were unable to find anything safer, Cashin said.

Despite numerous obstacles the teams continued helping the man move a little at a time, giving him plenty of opportunities to rest, and encouraging him to keep going, the deputy said, until they reached an area near the top of the cave.

Approaching a final angled ascent of 150-feet, rescuers retrieved additional rescue equipment, including ropes and ascenders, which would serve to make the steep ascent safer for the exhausted man.

Ascenders are mechanical devices used for ascending on a rope.

Once the pair returned the man was secured with ropes to prevent him from falling and a rescuer was placed on each side of him to provide assistance as he slowly made his way up to the top of the cave, where he was able to exit safely.

Once the group made their way back to the command center the man was checked by EMS who found him extremely weak and exhausted, but otherwise unharmed. Soon after he was reunited with his wife who had been waiting nearby for more than seven hours while the rescue operation was taking place.

“Earlier we sent one of the team members out to where she was waiting,” Cashin said, “to reassure her that everything was okay because the rescue was taking longer than expected.”

The small group of family members took good care of the man as soon as they noticed he was having difficulty by calling 911 and guiding rescuers to the uncle’s location, the deputy said.

The man continued to thank the team for taking so much time with him, and for staying with him and assisting him to the end.

Nearly 10 hours after the rescue started the teams made it back to their vehicles and were on their way home.

“Yea, there were three or four of the guys that didn’t get a Thanksgiving dinner yesterday,” Cashin said, ” but that’s how dedicated these guys are, and they did an excellent job.”

This report is based on preliminary information provided by law enforcement or first responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.

Resources: The Bloomington Cave; Bureau of Land Management

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Email: cblowers@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • .... November 25, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    Well another good ending because of the dedication of a few S.A.R members. and quick thinking of family members.
    I’m glad this situation did not have a tragic ending. Praise the Lord !

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