Four men who became trapped Thursday night while spelunking in Rainbow Falls Cave in the national park were rescued Friday evening.
Dustin Blakesley and Jake Layman, both 17, of Owasso, Okla., were brought to the cave entrance at about 7 p.m. by Knoxville Volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad members and were transported by ATV to the trailhead at 7:50 p.m. They were evaluated by Rural Metro Ambulance Service and found to be in good condition.
Gary Blakesley, 24, of Maryville and Chris Smith, 20, of Owasso were brought to the trailhead at about 8:10 p.m. and were also in good condition.
The four left Maryville at 10 p.m. Thursday and were expected back in Maryville at 3 a.m. Friday. When they didn’t return, Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers were contacted Friday morning. A backpack was found near the cave at about 10 a.m., and the four individuals were located soon afterwards inside the cave.
After they were rescued, the four men told rangers that they had set out to go caving at 10 p.m. Thursday because the Oklahoma men had to go back home, and it was the last opportunity to do something in the park. They said that the descent into the cave went smoothly, but that they realized they were trapped when they attempted to climb back up the ropes by which they had lowered themselves down, the last drop being about 50 feet.
The rope lead up an icy cold waterfall, and they said they were so cold and exhausted that they lacked the strength to climb back out. At that point they retreated further into the cave until they found a dry spot where they huddled together for warmth and waited for rescue.
Garry Blakesley reported having a little caving experience exploring some small caves back in Oklahoma where he had lived before moving to Tennessee about four months ago.