RUSSELL COUNTY, Va. — One of five men trapped in a cave in southwest Virginia for 47 hours praised God for their survival after they were rescued Sunday.
“The Lord watched over us,” the man told CNN affiliate WCYB.
Rescuers raced against the clock Sunday to save the group.
Six men in total entered the Cyclops Cave in Cleveland on Friday around 7 p.m., the Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s search and rescue coordinator Billy Chrimes said.
One of those men emerged from the cave on Sunday morning around 2 a.m., Chrimes said.
That man told authorities that the others were having difficulty getting out. He said they were exhausted and were starting to have problems with hypothermia.
‘This is what we train for’
“When we found the lost cavers they were in good spirits,” volunteer cave rescuer Eric Stanley told WCYB. “We brought them some food and warm beverages and warmed them up and then we rigged some hail lines to bring them up the different drops.”
Authorities announced early Sunday afternoon that one man had been rescued, followed by another a few hours later, then the rest shortly afterward.
“It’s a process but this is what we train for so there were no hiccups today everything went really smoothly,” Stanley said.
Four of the men were taken to a local hospital, said Jess Powers, emergency management coordinator for Russell County.
The other man was taken to Bristol Regional Medical Center in Tennessee, he said. The men were aged between 34 and 59.
Cyclops Cave gets its name for the “bubble-like formation” referred to as the “eye” of the Cyclops, Powers said.
The cave is popular with explorers, although it is on private property. Tony Smith, who owns a cattle ranch next to the caves, told CNN affiliate WJHL there are five big caves stretching for around 9 miles.
The group was planning to camp in the cave until Sunday, Powers said. A heavy downpour Saturday night made conditions muddy and wet and likely contributed to their difficulties, he said.
The group did not have a lot of extra food or water, Chrimes said.
The temperature underground was in the 50s, which can be comfortable under normal circumstances, but can contribute to hypothermia when you’re not active and moving, Chrimes said.
Members of a wide network of cave rescue teams responded to the emergency, and additional teams across the East Coast were on standby, Chrimes said.
The rescue took a considerable amount of time because of the small size of the cave, he said.
Once inside, rescue teams had to assess the situation and then report back because cell phones and radios don’t work inside the cave.