Crews in southwest Virginia have rescued one of five men trapped in a cave after they began suffering from hypothermia while exploring, authorities said Sunday.
Helping the men get out safely may take eight hours or more, said Billy Chrimes, search and rescue coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
“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 on their own power, but we’re still waiting to see what that situation will entail,” Chrimes said.
Six men, ranging in age from 34 to 59, entered Cyclops Cave near Cleveland around 7 p.m. Friday and planned to camp overnight Sunday, Chrimes said. Heavy rains made it more difficult for the men to climb out, he said.
The group did not prepare for the cave’s conditions, he said, and became exhausted without enough food and water. Temperatures inside are in the mid-50s, but if people can’t get up they develop hypothermia quickly in the dark.
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A 22-year-old man managed to get out at about 2 a.m. Sunday and reported the group’s situation to authorities. He did not need treatment at a hospital, Chrimes said.
Crews rescued one man at about 3 p.m., tweeted Jeff Stern, state coordinator of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
The trapped men are not lost, Chrimes said, and did not travel far into the seven-mile-long cave before needing help. A rescue crew went into the cave to assess the men’s conditions Sunday morning, Chrimes said, bringing blankets, water and medical supplies. It took about 1 1/2 hours for the crew to reach them.
After the crew returns and relays information, he said state and local rescue teams will plan how to get them out safely. A dozen emergency workers went into the cave Sunday morning and about a dozen more are on standby, according to Chrimes.
If crews need to carry each of the men out, Chrimes said the operation may become more complicated. Crews need rope climbing equipment to maneuver and repel through the tight spaces.
Chrimes said he did not know if the men had the skills to safely explore the cave. Law enforcement has notified the men’s families.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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