Iowa Rescuers Free Two Trapped Cave Explorers

MAQUOKETA, Iowa - Two cave explorers who are familiar with Wye Cave at Maquoketa Caves State Park might stay away for awhile.

Logan Eliasen, 20, and Emma Thompson, 20, both of Port Byron, Ill., became trapped in the cave at about 6:45 p.m. Friday.

Crews freed Eliasen at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday after he was trapped for over 20 hours. Thompson had been freed Friday night after being stuck for over four hours.

Rescuers said the friends were stuck about 300 feet below the surface in a winding cave with some small spaces.

It took crews from multiple fire and rescue departments to get Eliasen out of the cave.

Thompson said she and Eliasen are experienced cavers and have been to the Wye Cave at the park several times.

"I've been doing this since I was 8 years old. We're familiar with this cave," Thompson said. "We went into the cave, and Logan was ahead of me. I got stuck, and he went ahead and turned around to come back to me."

Thompson said there were some cavers behind her, and they went for help when she got stuck. Rescuers used air-chisel drills to get her out.

"I was on my left side and the cave kind of goes down. There are curves," Thompson said. "I couldn't maneuver. I was stuck. I was having panic attacks. I was shaking uncontrollably because it was cold. Logan took off his shirt and gave it to me. I could talk to him.

"He held my hand for emotional support," Thompson continued. "We prayed we'd be OK."

Thompson was taken to Jackson County Regional Health Center, where she was treated for bruises and scratches.

"I feel really beat up," she said. "It might be awhile before we go caving in small spaces."

Once Thompson was freed, Eliasen attempted to also get out of the same cave, but his hips got stuck in what rescuers described as a manhole-sized cave set at a 45-degree angle.

One of the problems with the rescue effort was the lack of oxygen in the cave.

County Attorney Chris Raker, who is also a Maquoketa firefighter, said there was only 14 percent oxygen in the cave and crews were working in one-hour shifts.

Maquoketa Fire Chief Mark Beck said they began chipping away the rock around Eliasen to relieve the stress on his hips.

Eliasen's father, Lonny, described his son as just more than 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds.

Beck said Eliasen was in good spirits throughout the rescue effort. He, as well as Thompson, were given oxygen masks and water. Eliasen was also provided food throughout the ordeal.

"It's really strenuous and we need smaller people to go in there," Beck said.

Maquoketa firefighters, who worked all night, were spelled by La Motte, Bellevue and Preston fire department personnel early Saturday. The Iowa Tech Team from Cedar Rapids and the Davenport Technical Rescue team also worked throughout the day to free Eliasen.

The park remained open, but visitors were directed to other parts of the park.

Family members spent the day in a park shelter waiting for word about Eliasen. Lonny Eliasen said he had not been able to talk to his son throughout the day.

"But I'm told his spirits were good," Lonny Eliasen said.

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