HART rescues two teenagers from Grindstaff Cave

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

Spring break is all about the vacation from school, and if you can mix in a little fun and adventure during the same week then you might have some fascinating stories to tell friends when you get back into the classroom. Four teenagers from Sullivan County decided to do just that on Wednesday afternoon, but the fun and adventure turned into three and a half hours of being lost in a cave.
   Grindstaff Cave is like honey to a bee to many spelunkers around the region. Twists and turns attract people of all ages deeper into the dark hole of the mountain.
   Ben Taylor, Stewart Lee, James Powers, and Sam Bedford, all 18 years old, hailing from Kingsport, converged into the cave around 1 p.m. in the afternoon. After being warned by local neighbors that the cave is on private property, Powers and Bedford decided not to go any further into the cave. Taylor and Lee, only armed with one flashlight and no food or water, went against the safe advice of their comrades and plunged deeper, only to find themselves lost after going through the "corkscrew" section.
   Bedford and Powers emerged from the cave and waited for their friends. At 3:24 p.m., they called 911 to report the missing teenagers. The High Angle Rescue Team, of the Carter County Rescue Squad, gathered at the Hampton Rescue Squad station to devise a plan to rescue the boys.
   Eleven HART members entered Grindstaff Cave at 6:14 p.m. According to John Burleson, HART director, the team entered the cave and went down the slide, also known as the "birth canal," then followed some twists and turns and crossed a small section with "very cold" water flowing about a foot deep. A ledge conceals the way out of the cave, and since the boys were inexperienced with this cave, they decided to wait for rescue help to arrive.
   The joyful sound of music coming from a HART member adlibbing words for the precarious situation rang through the tunnels to Taylor and Lee, who replied back to the cavalry of rescuers.
   Unharmed and muddy, the teenagers climbed back out to daylight at 7:02 p.m. and into the arms of anxious family members and the two friends that hadn't seen their muddy faces in more than four hours.
   Taylor and Lee repeatedly expressed their gratitude to HART for finding them.
   "We got lost because we got too curious," said Lee.
   "We just got turned around, so we stopped and waited," Taylor added.
   In unison, they added, "We failed to listen to the advice of our friends."
   Burleson said when going into a cave, advise someone else of your itinerary and set a time, so that, if you are not out of the cave within that time, your friends can wait another hour and then call for rescue help. Always carry an extra flashlight, spare batteries, dry clothing, stable shoes, and food and water, according to Burleson.
   Members of the HART team who responded were Burleson, Keith Ellis, Bob Morton, Adam Pierson, Craig Odom, Jimmy Sarrett, George Haga, David Jones, William Andre Timbs, Hayley Minton, and Johnny Isaacs.
   HART trains for situations like this that occur in caves around the region to familiarize themselves with the different areas. Burleson said about today's rescue mission, because of this training, "that's why we knew where to look."