updated 3/21/2008 6:25:43 PM ET 2008-03-21T22:25:43

Rescuers found four cavers cold and wet but otherwise safe after they didn’t return as planned from an overnight spelunking trip in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The four were found around 2 p.m. Friday in Rainbow Cave. They had left Maryville, Tenn., around 10 p.m. the night before and had expected to return five hours later. It is not clear why they didn’t.

The wife of one of the cavers, Garry Blakesley, a 24-year-old youth minister in Maryville, reported the group missing around Friday morning. Also missing were Blakesley’s brother, Dustin Blakesley, 17; Jake Layman, 17; and Chris Smith, 20, all of Owassa, Okla.

It might take until 10 p.m. Friday to remove the men from where they were found in the cave, about 500 feet inside, park spokesman Kent Cave said.

“They were at the bottom of the third of three major vertical drops in the cave,” Cave said. “It’s like rock climbing, but rock climbing in the dark with water falling over you. The vertical drops are basically waterfalls.”

Rangers and rescue workers began searching Rainbow Cave, one of four with entrances in the area, after finding a backpack and rope belonging to the men.

A volunteer rescue squad from Knoxville, was helping in the rescue.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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