Indiana man locked in cave for 60 hours, licked walls to quench thirst

File photo shows a spelunker exploreing Sullivan Cave near Bloomington, Ind., where the university student was locked inside for 60 hours. Indiana Karst Conservancy

A 19-year-old man who spent 60 hours locked alone inside a gated southern Indiana cave says he feels lucky to be alive.

Indiana University freshman Lukas Cavar was on a spelunking trip to Sullivan Cave about 16 km south of Bloomington when he became separated Sunday afternoon from 12 other members of the university’s Caving Club.

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When he eventually reached the cave entrance, Cavar found club members had padlocked its gate, unaware that he remained inside. He couldn’t get a cellphone signal and screamed for hours, hoping motorists passing on a nearby road might hear him.

“It took me a little while to wrangle my emotions and sort of approach things analytically, sensibly, to come up with a game plan to survive,” Cavar said Thursday, two days after his rescue.

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The Bloomington man, whose parents are Indiana University linguistics professors, tried picking the padlock with a paper clip to no avail.

Dressed in light clothes, hiking boots and a helmet, Cavar had a plastic bag, two energy bar wrappers, two empty water bottles, a cellphone and a wallet. He used the energy bar wrappers to collect moisture and the water bottles to collect rainfall and puddled cave water.

Cavar also licked the cave’s damp walls to quench his thirst. Hunger drove him to consider foraging for cave crickets, although he didn’t eat any of the small insects.

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After his parents filed a missing person report with university police, a high school friend informed the Caving Club’s president that Cavar was missing.

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Two club leaders immediately returned to the cave late Tuesday after finding a pile of clothing in a vehicle club members used to travel Sunday to the cave. They discovered Cavar uninjured and asleep behind the locked gate.

“I’m really glad to be alive. It feels like I’ve been given a second chance,” said Cavar, who returned to classes Thursday and has no plans for another spelunking trip.

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A message posted by the Caving Club’s president on a website for Indiana University student organizations says the club’s “rigorous protocols” for accounting for members during cave excursions had failed.

“We had a failure in our leadership to closely follow all these safety procedures,” the message states.

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