A man found himself needing rescue Saturday afternoon after climbing into a cave at the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park and being unable to get back out.

The man had reportedly watched a group of children climb up and into an upper cave on the north side of the travertine bridge and decided to follow suit, said Bill Pitterle, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue commander.

The man, a former Marine and semi pro football player, climbed up into the cave by going through a small opening toward the rear of another cave, Pitterle said.

However, when he tried to leave, the man found he could not fit back through the opening, he said.

“It was unidirectional,” he said.

The children meanwhile were small enough to go back through the opening.

It was too far to jump off the 20-foot cliff so park rangers called for help. The volunteer-based TRSAR responded and attached a rope system to one of the member’s vehicles.

“We train frequently for these kinds of rescues,” he said. “I would like to thank my team for establishing the fall line, quickly rigging and then executing flawlessly.”

Pitterle rappelled to the man and helped him rappel to the ground safely. The man was uninjured.

“He was very appreciative,” Pitterle said.

Contact the editor at

Contact the editor at abechman@payson.com


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