Three Arkansas State University students were found alive in a cave on Thursday, a day after going missing while on spelunking trip, authorities and the university said.
The three were on a trip in Blowing Cave, in Independence County, Arkansas, when they were reported missing Wednesday, county Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Glenn Willis told NBC affiliate KAIT.
"They have been found alive, all three are alive," Independence County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher Kevin Couch told NBC News on Thursday evening, adding that the students were still making their way out of the cave at the time.
Couch said he did not know if any of them had sustained injuries, but said "they're pretty cold and wet."
Arkansas State senior Casey Sherwood, 25, of Jonesboro, had been leading the group on the trip to the Batesville cave system when his wife, Katherine, reported them missing Wednesday evening, the university said in a statement Thursday.
The other missing students were Daiki Itoh, 19, and Daisuke Takagi, 18, both incoming first-year students from Japan, according to the statement. Itoh is of Hiratsuka, Kanagawa, and Takagi, of Kawagoe Hi-who, Hyogo, according to the university.
The students were found about 30 minutes from the entrance of the cave, Willis told KAIT.
"On behalf of all the faculty, students and staff of Arkansas State, I want to thank the rescue teams of Independence County and all the volunteers who came forward to assist," University Acting Chancellor Lynita Cooksey said in a statement. "We are so grateful for their hard work in locating Daiki, Daisuke and Casey."
Willis told KAIT that two crews began searching for the students since 1:45 a.m. Thursday and three crews had gone into the cave so far. Parts of the cave are very narrow and people have to crawl in some areas to get through, he added.
Members of Lyon College, who map caves, and local fire departments had been assisting in the search, according to KAIT.
Sherwood’s father earlier told the station that his son Casey has been in the cave many times and he was hopeful. "They're probably going to be a little tired and hungry and cold when they come out," he said.