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5 people ‘stranded’ 21 stories down in Grand Canyon Caverns rescued

A cavern guide at the Grand Canyon Caverns, which are among the largest dry caverns in the United States, on Route 66 in Peach Springs, Ariz., on May 8, 2017. (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
October 25, 2022

Five Grand Canyon tourists were stuck 21 stories underground in Grand Canyon Caverns overnight when an elevator malfunctioned on Sunday. They were rescued after being underground for around 24 hours.

Coconino County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jon Paxton told CNN the group of tourists originally became stuck down in Grand Canyon Caverns on Sunday evening when they discovered they could not return back to the surface due to a malfunction with the elevator.

“Yesterday five folks were exiting the caverns when the elevator stopped working,” Paxton told CNN on Monday, explaining the elevator malfunction. “Believing it was an electrical problem, a generator was brought in. It’s not an electrical problem. It’s a mechanical problem.”

After being stuck underground for about 24 hours, the group of five tourists was eventually rescued.

Paxton told NBC that earlier efforts to rescue the tourists on Monday were unsuccessful. On Tuesday, Paxton told the Washington Post that the trapped tourists were eventually brought back to the surface one by one using an emergency lift.

Paxton told the Washington Post that all of the tourists were back up on the surface by about 7:30 p.m. on Monday.

Grand Canyon Caverns is a tourist attraction that includes a hotel suite, a restaurant and other simple comforts, so while the group was unable to get an elevator ride back to the surface on Sunday night, they were able to enjoy some room service while they awaited their rescue.

Paxton said, “the Cavern put the people up in a motel, and there is a small restaurant at the bottom, and the motel is working to make the people as comfortable as possible while they are down there.”

Aside from the elevator, there is a staircase leading back up to the surface. Paxton explained that some of the people trapped underground do not have the physical capacity to get back up the stairs.

Paxton also told CNN, “We have a search and rescue team standing by as well as a hoisting apparatus to lift people out if the repairs take longer than expected or if people are not comfortable staying down there.”

Grand Canyon Caverns offers a variety of daytime attractions, such as walking tours and more adventurous spelunking experiences. An overnight stay at the underground Cavern Suite runs for $1,000 a night for two people and costs an additional $100 for each additional guest. The Cavern Suite can fit up to six people.

This article has been updated to reflect new information about how the trapped group was eventually rescued.