CUSHMAN, Ark. (AP) — An American student and two Japanese students who went missing inside of a cave overnight were found alive, Arkansas State University and emergency officials said Thursday.
The university said in a statement that rescue teams had found Casey Sherwood, a 25-year-old senior from Jonesboro; 19-year-old Daiki Itoh, of Hiratsuka, Kanagawa; and 18-year-old Daisuke Takagi, of Kawagoe, Hyogo.
"On behalf of all the faculty, students and staff of Arkansas State, I want to thank the rescue teams of Independence County and all the volunteers who came forward to assist," Acting Arkansas State University Chancellor Lynita Cooksey said in a statement released by the school. "We are so grateful for their hard work in locating Daiki, Daisuke and Casey."
Local television footage and a photo posted on Arkansas State's Facebook page showed the three covered in mud after their rescue. A university official at the scene said the three weren't injured.
"They appeared to be fine. I think more tired than anything," said Shane Broadway, vice president of university relations for the university system.
Crews had been searching for the students in Blowing Cave near Cushman, 110 miles north of Little Rock, with help from cave-mapping experts, since early Thursday morning. Sherwood's wife had reported him missing Wednesday night. Arkansas State said Sherwood was leading the spelunking trip.
Sherwood said he felt a "little bit of panic" when he realized they were lost in the cave, but decided to stay in place. He said the three would regularly shout for help or whistle so rescuers could find them, and stayed close together to keep warm.
"What we would do is we would sit back to back to back in a little triangle keeping ourselves warm and huddling ourselves up inside of our shirts and breathing hot air into us," Sherwood told KATV-TV. "So that kept us going the whole time."
Independence County Office of Emergency Management coordinator Glen Willis told KAIT-TV the three were found 30 minutes from the entrance of the cave, but he did not know if any of the three were injured. Willis did not return calls from The Associated Press.
University spokesman Bill Smith said the Japanese students had taken English as a second language courses during the summer term and had enrolled as freshmen for the fall semester.