Rescuers Hoist Trapped Tourists 200 Feet Out of Grand Canyon Caverns

by Sean Griffin
(Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

First responders in Arizona used a rope pulley system to hoist five stranded tourists out of the Grand Canyon Caverns.

The tourists were hoisted over 200 feet to safety after the elevator broke down on Sunday, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

The tourists had taken the elevator down to the caverns on Sunday evening. However, they got trapped and then stayed the night in an underground hotel suite. It contained two queen beds, a bathroom, a kitchenette and a library. 

Workers at the caverns attempted to fix the elevator on Monday morning, but first responders made the decision in the afternoon to attempt an improvised rescue.

“Rescuers made access to the location of the stranded party via the emergency stairs and prepared them for the technical rope raising operation by securing them in a rescue harness and connecting the haul and belay ropes to the harness,” a spokesperson for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office said. 

“The members of the stranded party were raised up the elevator shaft via the technical rope rescue mechanical advantage system one at a time.”

Each of the rescues took about 15 minutes each. They were completed nearly 24 hours after the tourists became stranded. None of them required treatment at the scene. 

The rescue operation unfolded at Grand Canyon Caverns, which remains the largest dry caverns in the United States. It’s located about 100 miles west of Flagstaff. 

However, Grand Canyon Caverns did not respond to requests for comment. 

In a Similar Event to Grand Canyon Caverns, a Hiker Rescued by TN National Guard Aircrew

A medical flight crew from the Tennessee Army National Guard responded to an emergency air evacuation mission. A hiker in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park area on October 14 was suspected to have broken their leg.

Around 4:20 p.m., the Tennessee Military Department and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency were notified of a hiker needing evacuation. The hiker was located along the Alum Cave Trail, south of Gatlinburg, and required immediate medical attention.

A helicopter from the Tennessee National Guard’s Detachment 1, Company C, 1-171st Aviation Regiment, based in Knoxville, assembled in less than 40 minutes. They launched to the incident site at around 5:00 p.m.

The flight crew consisted of Chief Warrant Officer 3 Trailson Moore, Pilot in Command; 1st Lt. Gavin Huffman, Pilot; Staff Sgt. Donald Sweet, Crew Chief; Col. Robert Ross, Flight Surgeon; Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Banta, Flight Paramedic; and Staff Sgt. Jared Ennis, Flight Paramedic.

At 5:22 p.m., the aircraft arrived at the hiker’s location on Alum Cave Trail. Then, Banta and Ennis lowered to the ground by hoist.

They then performed a medical assessment on the injured hiker. Once complete, the hiker was medically stabilized, and preparations were made to hoist them into the helicopter. The hiker was then raised up, followed by Banta and Ennis.  

Once onboard, the flight crew continued medical aid while flying to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. Fortunately, the hiker safely arrived at the hospital after a 12-minute flight.