On Sunday, 9 July, Jerry Kyle (16), Charles Richter (16), and Nancy Vanderlafske (17) visited Carnegie Cave. All were inexperienced, only Kyle having been caving a few times previously.
The entrance to Carnegie is a 36-inch, tar lined drain pipe, 150 feet long, passing under Interstate-81. The three met another group of novice cavers coming out of the cave when they arrived. Somone from this group, whose ages ranged from 15 to 20 years, left two candles burning in the middle of the drain pipe.
The three passed the candles on their way through the conduit without distrubing them, but it is possible that one of the party could have kicked over one or both of the candles upon entering the cave. Approximately 15 minutes later they started to return, and smelled smoke. Upon reaching the conduit the group saw a wall of fire blaxing before them in their only avenue of escape from the cave.
Richter became terrorized and started crawling through the pipe into the flames. He continued on and out the conduit despite Kyle and Vanderlafske shouting and warning him not to go. A nearby resident saw black smoke pouring from the pipe and the Richter emerged and fell to the ground, his clothes on fire. The local police and fire departments arrived quickly and Richter was rushed to a hospital.
Meanwhile, the other two retreated as far back into the main part of the cave as possible, to await help. About three hours later, the fire having burned itself out, firemen, and cavers who had been called to the scene, found the two safe and brought them out.
Richter died three days later from second and third degree burns over 59% of his body.
NSS Cave Accident Reports, 1967, Page 4-5.
York Grotto Newsletter, June-July, 1967.
The accident seems improbable, but there have actually been numerous caving accidents due to fire fed by dumped fuels, escaping acetylene, etc. It is possible that if an older and/or more experienced person had been present, Richter could have been stopped from entering the fire.