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Family speaks out after left stranded in underground cave attraction in Arizona

Coconino County Search and Rescue had to hoist the family up 20 stories from the bottom of the Grand Canyon Caverns after the elevator broke.

PEACH SPRINGS, Ariz. — A broken elevator left a family of five stuck at the bottom of the Grand Canyon Caverns in Peach Springs on Route 66 on Sunday. Two days later, authorities said they were able to safely extract each of the family members.

The family was staying at the Grand Canyon Caverns Hotel at the bottom of the caverns, according to the Coconino County Sheriff's Office.

It was there that an elevator malfunction left the family stranded roughly 21 stories underground.

“It was literally freezing cold because the drift coming down,” Felicia Jimenez told 12News. She and her family were visiting the caverns thinking it would be easy for her in-laws and two young children.

The broken elevator meant the only way out was to climb up 20 flights of stairs, but some members of the family were not in physical shape to make the climb and the other members of the family wanted to wait until they could all get out.

Jimenez said the staircase was more of a ladder with no safety rail on one side. 

“I had a 2-year-old and my 5-month-old with me and they wanted me to carry them on this side open to the empty elevator shaft and hold onto the rail with that hand so obviously I was saying no to that,” she said.

Fortunately, the family was able to stay overnight in the hotel suite at the bottom of the cavern while repair efforts were underway.

On Monday at roughly 10:30 in the morning, the sheriff's office received word that the elevator repairs weren't successful, and the family was going to need rescue assistance, a release from the office said. 

Jon Paxton a public information officer for the sheriff's office said this is the first time he's seen this type of rescue happen at the caverns. 

Ten members of the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Unit-Mountain Rescue Team, along with four members of the Flagstaff Fire Department Technical Rescue Team responded to Grand Canyon Caverns for the rescue. Paxton described the family as on edge. 

"They were obviously ready to go,” he said. 

Teams were able to build a technical rope rescue system in the elevator shaft and made their way to the bottom of the cavern via the stairwell to teach the family how to use it.

Each member of the family was raised one at a time in a process that took roughly 15 minutes per ascent, authorities said.

CCSO said that the rescue was complete by 6 p.m., and all members of the family were found to be in good condition. None of them required medical treatment on scene.

The CCSO thanked all parties involved in the rescue, saying that it was an "example of the benefits of close working relationships between Northern Arizona public safety agencies."

However, Jimenez said the fact that it took so long for authorities to respond they are threatening a lawsuit against Grand Canyon Caverns for not calling soon enough. 

“Anyone with a kind heart can’t look at a 5-month-old a 2-year-old and two disabled seniors and think it’s OK for them to stay down there that long,” Jimenez said.

12News reached out to Grand Canyon Caverns for comment but has not heard back.

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