UPDATE: All five men have been rescued.
CLEVELAND, Va. — Five men exploring a cave in southwest Virginia were trapped inside, and authorities are working to get them out safely, according to Billy Chrimes, search and rescue coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
Six men entered the cave in Cleveland, Virginia, on Friday around 7 p.m. and planned to spend an extended amount of time exploring it, he said.
One of those men emerged from the cave, known as Cyclops Cave, on Sunday morning around 2 a.m. and told authorities the others were having difficulty getting out, Chrimes said Sunday.
That man, who is 22, said the other men were exhausted and were starting to have problems with hypothermia, according to Chrimes. The men are not lost and aren’t too far into the cave.
The five trapped men are between the ages of 34 and 59, according to Emergency Management Coordinator for Russell County Jess Powers. Powers said the group was planning to camp in the cave until Sunday, but a heavy downpour Saturday night made conditions muddy and wet and likely contributed to their difficulties.
One of the men was rescued on Sunday afternoon and is being assessed by a local volunteer rescue squad, Powers said. The rescue took much longer than anticipated, Powers said, and the rescue teams have gone back inside to help the other four men.
The cave explorers did not have a lot of extra food or water, and Chrimes said the temperature underground is in the 50s. While that is comfortable under normal circumstances, it can cause problems with hypothermia when you’re not active and moving.
Rescue will take hours
Chrimes said the rescue effort will likely take a considerable amount of time because of the small size of the cave. In addition, rescue teams will have to get inside, assess the situation and report back because cell phones and radios don’t work inside the cave.
An extensive network of cave rescue teams have responded, with additional teams across the East Coast that have been put on standby in case additional assistance is required, Chrimes said.
“With cave rescue incidents, this has the potential to extend to eight, to 12 hours, depending on what all is involved with getting the subjects out, and it may even extend beyond that just depending on the circumstances,” Chrimes said.
“Certainly we’re hoping for the best and that we can get them warmed up, get them moving, get them some energy back and get them out under their own power, but we’re still waiting to see what that situation will entail.”
Tony Smith, who owns a cattle ranch next to the caves, told WJHL there are five big caves stretching for around nine miles below ground.
The cave where the men are trapped is known as Cyclops Cave and is popular with explorers, though it is on private property. The cave has a “bubble-like formation” inside known as the “eye” of the Cyclops, in which the group was planning to camp, Powers said.