Broken elevator at Grand Canyon Caverns strands people 200 feet underground for more than a day

Five people became stranded for more than 24 hours about 200 feet underground after the elevator at Grand Canyon Caverns near Peach Springs, Arizona, malfunctioned Sunday evening.

According to ABC News:

Several people were able to walk up the 21 flights of stairs to get out, but five others were either unable to safely do so or chose to stay behind with those who physically couldn’t, according to a spokesperson for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office.

The stranded group was provided accommodation and food that night by a small hotel and restaurant adjacent to the dry caverns, which are among the largest in the United States and date back 65 million years. The elevator malfunction was initially thought to be electrical but is now believed to be mechanical after an external generator that arrived on Monday was hooked up to the elevator and did not fix the problem, the sheriff’s office spokesperson said.

ABC-15 in Arizona reported all of the people were rescued Monday night after more than 24 hours underground.

Sherry Jimenez was finally pulled out of the Grand Canyon Caverns nearly 30 hours after she went down there.

“I can’t say thank you enough because they did everything so professionally, so safe,” says Sherry Jimenez, had to be rescued.

The search & rescue team from Coconino County was trying to comfort the family members on the way up. Each rescue took at least 25 minutes.

KHOU had more details about the rescue:

Ten members of the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Unit-Mountain Rescue Team, along with four members of the Flagstaff Fire Department Technical Rescue Team responded to Grand Canyon Caverns for the rescue. 

Teams were able to build a technical rope rescue system in the elevator shaft and made their way to the bottom of the cavern via the stairwell to teach the family how to use it.

Each member of the family was raised one at a time in a process that took roughly 15 minutes per ascent, authorities said.

CCSO said that the rescue was complete by 6 p.m., and all members of the family were found to be in good condition. None of them required medical treatment on scene.

Grand Canyon Caverns contains an underground restaurant and suite. So, other than the cool temperatures, the people stranded probably were comfortable.

A representative who answered the phone Tuesday at Grand Canyon Caverns said underground tours will be canceled for at least a week while the elevator is repaired.

Walter Peck discovered the caverns in 1927 off Route 66 during a search for gold, then began charging admission to the site shortly after that. Peck initially named the site Yampai Caverns, then Coconino Caverns until 1957, and Dinosaur Caverns until 1962. In 1962, the owners settled on the Grand Canyon Caverns name.

A new entrance to the caverns was built by the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. After the elevator was installed in 1962, the natural entrance was sealed off at the request of the Hualapai Indians because it was considered a sacred burial place. 

Grand Canyon Caverns now is a multipronged attraction with a motel, RV park and even an airport.

(Image of the interior of Grand Canyon Caverns by Michael Kappel via Flickr)

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