Missing Cavers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park Ill-Prepared
Four spelunkers who found themselves stranded in a cave in Great Smoky Mountains National Park were ill-prepared for their adventure.
According to park officials, the four had little caving experience, lacked necessary equipment, and didn't dress properly for their trek.
The four, who were reported missing early Friday morning, were brought out of Rainball Falls Cave Friday evening.
The first two, Dustin Blakesley and Jake Layman, both 17, of Owasso, Oklahaoma, were brought to the cave entrance at about 7:00 p.m. by Knoxville Volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad members and were transported by ATV to the trailhead at 7:50 p.m. They were evaluated by Rural Metro Ambulance medics and found to be in good condition.
Twenty-four-year-old Garry Blakesley of Maryville, Tennessee, and Chris Smith, 20, of Owasso, Oklahoma, arrived at the trailhead at about 8:10 p.m. and were also in good condition.
The four told rangers that they had set out to go caving at 10:00 p.m. Thursday night because the Oklahoma men had to go back home and it was the last opportunity to do something in the park. They said that the descent into the cave went smoothly, but that they realized they were trapped when they attempted to climb back up the ropes by which they had lowered themselves down the last drop of about 50 feet.
The rope lead up an icy cold waterfall and they were so cold and exhausted that they lacked the strength to climb back out. At that point they retreated further into the cave until they found a dry spot where they huddled together for warmth and waited for rescue.
Garry Blaksley reported having a little caving experience exploring some small cave back in Oklahoma where he had lived before moving to Tennessee about four months ago. They had four ropes and a single ascender, but were clad mostly in cotton, which provides little warmth when wet.