An afternoon trip with the Indiana University caving club turned into a 58-hour nightmare for a 19-year-old freshman after he lost track of his group and got trapped inside a cave with no food or water, the New York Times reports.
Lukas Cavar was one of 12 students and school staff to explore the privately owned Sullivan Cave in southern Indiana earlier this month. The group reportedly split into two teams of six when they ventured into the massive underground cave system. When Cavar decided he didn't like a section of cave nicknamed the "Backbreaker," he split off from his group to find the other one, but never reached them.
Cavar got lost inside the ten miles of underground passages and, when he finally made it back to the cave's entrance thanks to some arrows etched on the stone walls, he found that the club had already left—locking the gate to the cave's entrance behind them and trapping him inside.
"I was basically at the surface, but I was still underground," Cavar later told university newspaper the Indiana Daily Student.
According to the Daily Student, Cavar was locked inside the dark cave with just a plastic bag, two empty water bottles, two Clif bar wrappers, and a caving helmet with a headlamp. He also had his iPhone, but the cave was too deep underground to find a signal.
"I was very confused and pretty scared," he told the Daily Student. "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."
He scoured the cave, finding a paper clip, and spent hours rubbing it against the gate's lock to try to grind the metal down enough to break out. When the sun began to set and the gate was still firmly locked, he gave up and decided to save his strength. He attempted to signal someone outside by flashing his headlamp at the cave's mouth and spent around eight hours screaming for help. But no help came.
From Sunday, September 17, until late Tuesday night, Cavar was locked alone inside the dark cave. He reportedly licked dew from the cave walls and collected his pee in water bottles. Starving, he sucked on the Clif bar wrappers and contemplated catching and eating the crickets he saw inside the cave. He wrote notes to loved ones on his dying iPhone in case he never made it out alive.
"I'd like see them again, so I think I'll just keep surviving until they find me," he remembered. "They're bound to eventually stumble upon me, right?"
His parents reported Cavar missing on Tuesday, and, late Tuesday night, caving club leaders returned to the cave to check for him. They found Cavar on the other side of the locked gate, hungry and exhausted, but alive.
"The guy who locked me in the cave, who actually physically turned the lock," Cavar said, "was the same guy who unlocked the cave and got me out, three days and three nights later."
Cavar did not sustain any major injuries and was in relatively good health when rescued, even remembering to carry out his poop like he was taught to do. He told the Daily Student that the caving club leaders were deeply apologetic for, you know, nearly leaving him to die inside a cave.
"We have a series of rigorous protocols in place that are supposed to prevent situations like this, but they are only effective if followed," the club wrote in a statement, published by the Daily Student. "We had a failure in our leadership to closely follow all these safety procedures."