Cave Rescue, July 24, 1993
Organ Cave, WV


At about 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 24, a large group entered the Lipps Entrance of the Organ Cave System, a 36-mile long cave in southern Greenbrier County, West Virginia. These included two cavers John Gillespie (15) and Matt McDonald (17) along with several younger cavers and John's mother, Kathy. Their destination was Lipps Maze, about 40 minutes travel time from the Lipps Entrance.

At about 4:15 p.m. most of the group was tired and ready to leave but Gillespie and McDonald were not. They got permission to exit the commercial Organ Caves entrance about four hours to the east. Gillespie had been through this route twice before but not on his own. McDonald had started caving that summer and his experience in the Organ Cave System was limited.

They had trouble finding the Handley Room, about halfway along this route. When they found it, they stopped to rest, lighting several large all-day candles. They signed a register and indicated they thought they had it made. They then exited the room by the Flack Handley Turnpike, an exposed bedrock ledge leading to the Flack Room. They were now off-route, heading down into the lower level of the cave. The vast majority of the standard Lipps-Organ route is in the upper level. They traveled down slope to the Fun Room, then wet north, through Octopus Alley and to the Sarver Room. Eventually they went up the steep side of the Caldwell Syncline and into the Bone Room where they decided to get some sleep.

Meanwhile they had been missed and the first search was instituted at about 11:00 p.m. A group entered the commercial entrance and searched along the standard route to the Handley Room. They found the candles still burning and the note in the Handley Room register. Others searched from the Lipps Entrance to the Handley Room.

A second call-out brought in about 20 local cavers and the search was expanded. Two cavers were stationed at the Throne Room, a major junction along the upper stream way, as a communication aid and in case the lost cavers were on the move. The various groups were unsuccessful and exited the cave late Sunday afternoon. A small crew, including Gillespie's parents, entered with a dog (the family dog?) to see if the dog could track the lost cavers. There was concern at that point that the victims would become hypothermic. It was decided to do a saturation search and more cavers were called in.

That evening a note from the victims was found in the Sarver Room saying that they now could find the way out and were proceeding back toward the Handley Room. One group of rescuers set out immediately for the Handley Room while another crew did a pass of the cave south toward the Handley Room. A crew of volunteer firemen was meanwhile stringing a telephone line down the Organ Mainstream.

At about 9:30 p.m. the lost cavers were found in the Handley Room. They were in good condition and were able to exit the cave on their own. A sweep was done to call off the various rescue groups and all exited the cave by 4:00 a.m. on Monday morning.


NSS News, December 1994 (Part 2) V52N12, Page 394.

Editor "Organ Rescue Callout" D.C. Speleograph Aug/Sep 1993 p 10.

George Dasher "WVACS Activities" The West Virginia Caver Dec 1993 p 17.

Greg Spring "Two Rescues in Brief . . . " Electronic Mail, Cavers Forum July 30, 1993.

Bob Frostick to George Dasher, personal communication, July 1993.

Ed Swepston "Rescue in Organ Cave, July 25th and 26th, 1993" The West Virginia Caver Oct 1993, p 16.


Swepston points out that this is the second lost-caver rescue in Greenbrier County (see McClungs Cave, 1985) where the victims did not run out of light and continued to move about, making their rescue difficult. Here it proved to be impossible to outthink the lost cavers.

Dasher comments on the impressive number of cavers that not only knew the cave but knew the proper names for passages and rooms in the cave, making rescue organization and operations much easier.