On Saturday, March 23, four separate groups of cavers visited J-4 Cave, a popular cave located in a quarry near the town of Pleasant Gap, Pennsylvania. The cave has 4300 feet of passage on two levels, with all types of passage represented. Two groups of two had merged for route-finding purposes and, at about 4:30 p.m., were heading into the cave on the lower level; a group of four were further into the cave on the lower level at that time, heading out. On the upper level was a group of about 20 boy scouts and associated members of a church group.
As this group passed from Goliath toward the Sliding Formation Room, they had to pass over two holes, under an overhanging ledge, that connected to the lower level. At a little after 5 p.m., as they did so, one scout apparently dropped a flashlight and Troy Crothers (12) lunged to get it. He fell through one of the holes and plummeted down a steep, uneven wall (about 70 degree slope) for about 40 feet, coming to rest in the lower main passage about 200 feet from the entrance.
The cavers on the lower level heard "a loud scraping sound as the victim fell followed by a deep thud." Various screams issued from the upper level; a fall had obviously occurred, and they scrambled about to find the victim. Crothers was soon located, lying on his back, arms and legs spread wide, bleeding profusely from his head. He had been wearing a hardhat, but this had come off and was lying nearby. He had suffered numerous scrapes and bruises, two gashes on his head, and possible concussion. There was a large lump on his forehead and his upper lip was swollen. His body was trembling and his eyelids were fluttering. The bleeding wounds were bandaged while three cavers went for help. Other cavers arrived the victim was treated for shock.
After just a few minutes the victim seemed to come out of shock and the bleeding was stopped, though the bandages were soaked with blood. He began to converse but could not remember the fall. By 5:40 p.m. rescuers were already at the entrance, and a first aid kit and vital gear were brought in. Crothers' blood pressure was 125/70 with a pile of 80 -- he was doing well. The neck brace was applied. Hypothermia began to set in and blankets were brought in. At 8:20, a SKED arrived at the site and cavers were hard at work preparing the evacuation route; in ten minutes, the victim transport began. At one point, he was removed from the SKED and maneuvered through a place too tight for both. The cave is tortuous and he didn't reach the entrance until 10:20 p.m.
NSS News, December 1992 (Part 2) V50N12, Page 344.
Keith Wheeland "Report of Rescue at J-4 Cave . . . " unpublished report, 10 pages.
Phil O'Kunewick "J-4 Accident Summary" Commander Cody Chronicle, (11) 2, spring, 1991, pp 8-9.
George Dasher "Rockin' Chair" The West Virginia Caver, (9) 4, August, 1991, p 9.
The victim was lucky to be wearing a hardhat, but such a fall points out the need for a proper chinstrap. A helmet should not come off in a fall. One also has to criticize the lack of protection at this exposed pit. The ease of getting across reportedly depends on body size -- the small scouts should have been spotted or aided across or given a handline to use. Perhaps they were unaware of the exposure. Still, the scout master apparently learned a lesson about confusion in large parties.
In an otherwise unrelated footnote, one of the cavers to reach the victim initially was tragically killed the following day when he fell asleep at the wheel on I-95.