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Norfolk Southern helps rescue cavers found in rail tunnel near Chattanooga

NS train traffic was stalled for 12 hours, company spokesman says

Photo: Shutterstock/Andy Borysowski

A Norfolk Southern spokesman said Saturday he’s unclear whether two cavers will face trespassing charges after they were rescued early Wednesday in a cave located on private property belonging to the railroad near the base of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Atlanta-based Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC) suspended train traffic for 12 hours as its maintenance of way crew aided in the efforts to find Gabriel Vaughn, 21, and Robby Dobos, 23, who were found alive in a remote cave that was accessed through an active rail tunnel belonging to the company, Connor Spielmaker, media relations manager for NS, told FreightWaves.

“Our crews ferried search and rescue teams back and forth to the area on their hi-rail trucks,” Spielmaker said.

He added that the NS crew also brought in heavy machinery to “widen the entrance to the cave to allow easier access for first responders and their equipment.”

NS assisted the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Rescue Service, along with the Chattanooga Fire Department and Chattanooga Police, in rescue efforts. Vaughn and Dobos were last seen around 8 p.m. local time on Monday before they left to explore a cave at the base of Lookout Mountain. 

“We’re incredibly proud of the members of our team who worked alongside first responders through the night for this outcome,” NS said in a statement. “We’d like to echo first responders in that this cave is not a place for the public. Beyond the danger of the cave itself, the area where this cave was accessed is an active railroad tunnel with trains going through at all hours of the day.”

In a statement about the recovery efforts, Brad Tipton, deputy chief of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Rescue Service, said teams “maneuvered through difficult areas during the cave rescue, including tight crawls flooded with water and low airspace.”

He said one of the CHCRS teams was equipped with wetsuits to search the submerged sections of the cave.

“CHCRS members located the party beyond the low airspace crawl and quickly prepared the party for travel under their own power,” Tipton said in a statement posted on social media. 

He added that Vaughn and Dobos were “able to follow rescuers out of the cave without additional incident.”

Spielmaker said NS “will be re-sealing the area that was used to enter this cave.”

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Clarissa Hawes

Clarissa has covered all aspects of the trucking industry for 14 years. She is an award-winning journalist known for her investigative and business reporting. Before joining FreightWaves, she wrote for Land Line Magazine and If you have a news tip or story idea, send her an email to [email protected]