An Illinois man who was trapped in an Iowa cave for 20 hours said he wasn't initially worried when he got stuck the narrow passage, but he lost track of time and turned to prayer as a dozen rescuers took turns crawling through 300 feet of twists and turns to free him.
Logan Eliasen, 20, of Port Byron, Ill., said he had no idea how many people were involved in the rescue because he only had contact with two or three at once, but "they all knew my name."
He told The Quad-City Times ( http://bit.ly/MnxbG2) that he was so grateful to the rescue workers who tugged at ropes and staffed oxygen lines during his 20-hour ordeal before he was finally freed Saturday afternoon.
Eliasen, a Bible and theology major at Wheaton College, near Chicago, and three friends went to Maquoketa Caves State Park on Friday to camp overnight and go caving. He and friend Emma Thompson, 20, also of Port Byron, Ill., decided to visit the Wye Cave about 7 p.m., while their friends stayed at the campsite to eat.
He led the way and worked through a narrow spot in the cave, although he caught his leg briefly in the passage. Thompson wasn't so fortunate and found herself stuck. Fortunately, another couple was in the cave and found them.
"God must have put them there," Eliasen said.
The couple tried to coach Thompson on how to get free, but nothing worked. The couple went for help.
Once rescuers arrived, they freed Thompson in about 30 minutes.
Then it was Eliasen's turn.
He had made it through the same space earlier with little difficulty. But he was cold, hungry and tired. He got his chest hung up, and he briefly panicked and started hyperventilating. He waited for rescuers to coach him through it.
Freed from that, he worked his way through an angled part of the passage. He got hung up on his side, with one arm on a ledge. His leg and hip got stuck.
Rescuers were right there. One gave him a drink of water, and had to brush his hair from his face to get the bottle to his mouth.
"That was the most reassuring moment of the whole ordeal," Eliasen said.
Rescuers chiseled away at the rock. They tried to tug him loose with ropes. He was alone occasionally for 10 to 20 minutes at a time when workers changed shifts.
It was during a shift change when he told himself he would try to free himself. He tried three times but couldn't find the strength to push his body onto the ledge and free himself. He tried once more.
"I prayed for the Lord to give me the last burst of strength," he said. "I pushed."
He said everything went where it needed to go and "it felt like I was being shoved out of there."
Given something to eat and water to drink, he worked his way with rescuers to the larger part of the cave where medical treatment began. Freed from the cave about 3 p.m. Saturday, he had scrapes on his body and suffered from dehydration and exhaustion.
Eliasen spent the night at Jackson County Regional Health Center.
"People I know and people I'll never know prayed for me," he said.
Among the rescuers was Davenport firefighter Amy Priest. At 5-foot, 6-inches and 140 pounds, she was among only a few rescuers small enough to make physical contact with Eliasen.
"I just did what I could for him," she told the Quad-City Times on Tuesday.
Priest had to ditch her harness to reach Eliasen. Wearing gloves and a helmet with a light, she found him pinned in a passage only a few feet wide. It took meandering around a 90-degree turn to get to him.
She then slid a pliable piece of plastic attached to a rope under him and a team of eight firefighters pulled. They were able to pull Eliasen just one foot, but it made all the difference.
After Priest was with Eliasen about an hour, she had to take a break because of the low oxygen in the cave. She said when she returned 15 minutes later, he had wiggled out and was sitting up in a larger space, eating a granola bar and guzzling a bottle of water.
"The expression on my face was priceless," Priest said.
Information from: Quad-City Times, http://www.qctimes.com