Following entrapment, rangers caution: explore caves at own risk - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Following entrapment, rangers caution: explore caves at own risk


This weekend, Emma Thompson was trapped in a cave, stuck for several hours.  But her friend was stuck for more than 20 hours.  Thompson and 20-year-old Logan Eliasen were crawling through a narrow part of Wye Cave at Maquoketa Caves State Park Friday.

Within hours of getting stuck, the rescue operation began.  Eliasen was given oxygen and an IV to prevent dehydration, as rescue crews chiseled away the rock to free him.  More than 20 hours later on Saturday afternoon, they got him out.

Eliasen was taken to a hospital and released Sunday afternoon.

Park ranger Scott Dykstra says this is only the second time he's aware of that someone became trapped inside the caves at the park.  What happened Saturday is just a reminder that anything you do in state parks is at your own risk, so you should use extreme caution.

A group of adventurous middle schoolers from the Quad Cities explored Maquoketa Caves State Park Monday.  After the dramatic rescue of cave-exploring "spelunkers" this weekend, some students were skittish about taking the plunge.

"One of the people in my group, we're all like 'People just got stuck in there!' Then she started freaking out," said visitor Allysa Criss.

Once inside the cave, it was easy for them to see how some could get trapped.

The hole where you enter the cave is fairly narrow.  As you go deeper inside, it gets even narrower, down to a passageway called 'the birth canal', which is where the weekend visitors were stuck.

"It's really slippery.  Once you get down there, it's roomier, but there's a hole at the bottom you have to make yourself go head first instead of feet first, and there's lots of pointy rocks," Criss said.

Park rangers say visitors have always been told that exploring the caves is "at your own risk," and they're constantly advising that you only go as far as you think you can. 

"Trust your gut instinct, in your level of exploring caving.  If you don't feel comfortable, don't force yourself.  Turn around and leave," said park ranger Scott Dykstra.

It's also recommended you never go exploring alone.  Having the right gear, from clothing to flashlights is also encouraged.  For now, it's too early to know if any changes will be made to how visitors access the Maquoketa Caves, but extra warnings might not do much good.

"The parks are really explore at your own risk.  If we put up a sign for every accident or possible scenario that could happen, the park wouldn't be in its natural resource state.  It would be just one big billboard," Dykstra said.

This weekend's entrapment could be yet another unfortunate detractor for visitors.   It comes just as the Maquoketa Caves re-opened, after being closed for almost two years because of concerns cave bats could possibly have a serious infection known as "white nose syndrome."

But park officials hope visitors will keep coming-- just be cautious, and not test their limits while exploring.

Officials are still calculating just how much it cost to complete this weekend's rescue at the Maquoketa Cave.  In all, five fire departments, one ambulance, several sheriff's deputies, the DNR, two tech rescue units, the DOT, and Iowa Task Force One were on hand.  A helicopter was also on stand-by.

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