At about 4 p.m. on Friday, December 18, a group of three, Doug Lilly and two friends (all 16, all male), entered Organ Cave in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Organ is a 36+ mile system characterized as a dendritic maze, mostly dry and horizontal. The cavers entered via the Commercial Entrance. From this the most accessible sections are the two major levels of the eastern part of the cave, each aligned along the Caldwell Syncline, each possessing multiple maze areas and cross-connecting in only a few places.
The group proceeded to the Throne Room, some 45 minutes in, and left a note saying they intended to visit both Sally's Waterfall, to the north in the Upper Stream Passage, and the Waterfall Room, at the southern terminus of the Upper Stream Passage. The cavers were equipped with helmets mounting electric lights but were relatively inexperienced. They toured for some time and started out.
Past the Throne Room they apparently made a mistake. After descending "A" Trail to the T Room, they turned down Straddle Alley instead of going out the Discovery Passage. When they came to the Blowhole they turned downstream toward the Hedricks Mainstream. Unfortunately the upstream passage is hidden by a keyhole -- this would have led them to the Dog Room with which Lilly was familiar and which leads to the commercial section.
At some point their lights grew dim and they started resorting to Cyalume backups. With poor light they were truly lost and apparently wandered for some time.
At 1 am, when the teenagers failed to return home, George Sively, the owner of the commercial portion, was notified and called rescuers. There ensued a long, complicated series of searches in the cave, involving numerous local cavers. The searchers left cards as they traveled through the cave, telling the lost cavers to stay put -- if they were moving about, and passed rescuers unseen, they might, to all intents and purposes, never be found, and led the searchers to the wrong areas.
When a rescue group reached the mouth of Slate Creek, on of them climbed down to creek and spied a patch of white -- it was a note left by the lost cavers. It read "11:19 Heading south along stream. Saturday am. Doug, Danny, Marvin." One rescuer was sent out with the news while the other two headed south and downstream in the Hendricks Mainstream. They encountered the lost cavers about 300 feet downstream from the Hendricks-Organ Junction, near the mouth of the 1812 Overflow Passage. They were in good condition, but the Cyalumes were dead and only Lilly had a functioning light, which was dim and flickering. They were within minutes of being without light. They had wandered up both the Organ Mainstream and the Hendricks Mainstream and had twice been within feet of the Dog Room.
They were given water and lights and the five headed out. At the Organ-Hendricks Junction the victims were given more water and some food. They continued out, arriving at the entrance at about 3 a.m.
NSS News, December 1993 (Part 2) V51N12, Page 367.
George Dasher "Organ Cave" The West Virginia Caver 11:1 February 1993, pp 12-15.
George Dasher: "If all the cavers who are maile, in their teens or early twenties, and who get into trouble underground were somehow prevented from 'doing their thing' then we could cut the number of cave rescues by 90 percent."
"Obviously, the three teenagers should have had someone with them who knew the cave better. On the plus side, they had not only a compass, but also notepaper and pencils, and kept their heads about them. Doug Lilly, a trip leader, has reportedly already attended a Greenbriar Grotto meeting and seems to be interested in learning from 'organized caver.'"
"On a very serious plus side, the large number of experienced cavers with an intimate knowledge of the cave system contributed greatly to the successful outcome of the rescue -- despite the complexity and size of the cave system."