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A Divine Rescue from the Depths

He'd set out for some recreational spelunking, but now was inextricably trapped. Was this the end for him?

By Logan Eliasen, Port Byron, Illinois

As appeared in

They didn’t think I could hear them but I could. Every word.

“He’s dead weight,” one voice said. “Exhausted, oxygen deprived, dehy­drated. He’s got nothing left.”

“I don’t know how we’ll get him out before the rain comes,” another man replied. “God help him if that tunnel floods....”

The cold cavern walls stung my cheeks. My lips were caked with dirt, dry and cracked. My empty stomach growled. I strained every muscle in my body, twisted left and right, ex­haled every cubic inch of air that I could. It made no difference.

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I was far beneath the surface of Maquo­keta Caves State Park. The words of the rescue workers in another cham­ber of the cavern echoed loud and clear. If the tunnel floods...

“Hey, Logan!” This voice was nearer. A female firefighter, one of the only rescuers small enough to squeeze in close to me. “You’re going to be alone for a little bit while we switch shifts. You just take it easy. Okay?”

I lifted my head off the ground and craned my neck toward her. “Yeah, okay,” I said weakly. The firefighter’s flashlight disappeared around the bend and darkness poured into the shaft the way rainwater would, if the forecast held.

These tunnels had been formed by the runoff from cen­turies of storms. What did drowning feel like? I imagined a steady stream trickling into the tunnel, rising around my face, filling my mouth and nose, flooding my lungs.

This was not the day I had thought I’d die. I’d just finished my sopho­more year at Wheaton College, and my friends and I had decided that a spelunking trip would be the perfect way to celebrate.

I knew these caves; I’d explored nearly all of them with my father, starting when I was 10 years old. I never dreamed I’d be in any danger.

Why hadn’t I stayed at camp with the rest of the group? I could be set­ting up the tent, eating s’mores. But my friend Emma and I wanted to ex­plore a real belly-crawler: Wye Cave.

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You enter through a sinkhole at the bottom of a valley and descend straight down to a steep boulder slope strewn with wood and leaves swept there by past storms. At the bottom is a tight pinch, about a foot high. You squeeze through, then the cave branches off into several smaller tunnels.

Emma was the first to get stuck. Two other cavers heard our shouts and sent help. It took five hours for firefighters to get her free. As we followed the rescuers out, snaking through the shaft, I got stuck myself.

I’m over six feet tall, and an out­cropping I’d tried to squeeze under trapped my chest against the tunnel wall. “You’re okay, bud,” one of them told me, examining the surrounding rock with his flashlight. “We’ll lead her out and come back for you. Ten minutes, tops.”

I’d believed it at the time. They’ll get me out, ten minutes, tops. When they returned, they tried everything–harnesses and pulleys and ropes, chisels and drills–careful to avoid triggering a collapse. But all the twisting and jostling had moved me less than a foot.

In fact, I was wedged even tighter, my hips pegged against the limestone. First 10 minutes, then an hour, another hour. Now it had been 20, nearly a day in the dark underground.