College Student spends 60 hours locked in cave before being rescued

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Sunday, September 24, 2017 - 23:00
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Indiana University freshman Lukas Cavar was left behind during a college caving trip and spent 60 hours alone in Sullivan Cave near Bloomington, Indiana. He was on a spelunking trip with 12 other members of the university’s Caving club when he became separated from the group on Sunday, September 17. The group had split into two subgroups inside the cave. Cavar was in the rear group and pushed ahead on his own to catch up with the front group but took an incorrect side passage. When he realized his mistake, he eventually navigated back to the main passage but by the time he returned to the cave entrance, he found that the group had padlocked the cave gate from the outside unaware that he was still in the cave.

Cavar spent the next 60 hours in the cave by himself. He shouted at the cave gate, hoping that passing cars could hear him without success. He was unable to get a signal on his cell phone and on Monday his cell phone batter died. With no food or water he ended up licking water from the sides of the cave.

Cavar's parents filed a missing person's report with campus police when he did not return from the trip. It is unclear what the response was in trying to locate Cavar between Sunday night and Tuesday. On Tuesday, September 19, after learning that Cavar was missing, students checked the vehicles used on the trip and found some of Cavar's belongings still in the vehicle. They immediately returned to the cave and found him sleeping next to the gate. Cavar returned to campus hungry and unharmed. There is no mention of whether the Caving Club contacted local rescue authorities before returning to the cave with the key or when they notified University officials.

On the Caving Club's Website includes a set of established caving protocols. The club posted a notice that was reprinted in the Indiana Daily Student newspaper. “We had a failure in our leadership to closely follow all these safety procedures,” the message states. "The risk that our member was exposed to as a result of these failures is a vivid reminder of why we have protocols." 

According to Club Protocols there was an established "Buddy System" in operation in the cave. The system seemed to fall apart after students exited the cave and then returned to campus in different vehicles. The "buddy" assumed that Cavar was in the other vehicle. No subsequent check was done when the group returned to campus. 

While all the facts are not known at this time, from a risk management perspective there are multiple gaps in procedures, incident reporting and rescue that should serve as a wake up call for developing comprehensive protocols and having an effective emergency response plan in place when an incident occurs.

Posting Dates: 
Sunday, September 24, 2017 to Thursday, September 24, 2020