Twenty hours into his ordeal, Logan Eliasen was amazed.
Freed by what he believes is the grace of God and taken to a larger area of Wye Cave at Maquoketa Caves State Park, he found rescue workers ready to swarm over him.
“They all knew my name,” the 20-year-old Port Byron man said. “I had no idea how many people were there because I only saw two or three people at a time.
“God not only used me to make the final push to get me out, but all those people,” he said.
It was then he learned all those rescuers had tugged at ropes in attempts to free him, staffed oxygen lines for him and supported those working around him. There also were the medics who waited to treat him.
“I just want people to know how grateful I am to the rescue workers,” he said.
He recounted his ordeal as he rested at home in Port Byron on Monday.
Eliasen, a Bible and theology major at Wheaton College, near Chicago, and three friends went to Maquoketa Caves on Friday to camp overnight and go caving. He and longtime friend Emma Thompson, 20, of Port Byron, decided to visit the Wye Cave about 7 p.m., while their friends stayed at the campsite to eat.
He led the way and worked through a narrow spot in the cave, although he caught his leg briefly in the passage. Thompson wasn’t so fortunate and found herself stuck. Fortunately, another couple was in the cave and found them.
“God must have put them there,” Eliasen said.
They tried to coach Thompson on how to get free, but nothing worked. The couple went for help. Eliasen and Thompson talked. He kept her calm and held her hand.
“They left, and it got quiet,” he said. “I said anything to lighten the mood.”
He offered her his shirt because her legs were cold.
Once rescuers arrived on scene and were set up, they freed Thompson in about 30 minutes, Eliasen said. They took her out of the cave, then it was his turn. He wasn’t worried, because he had made it through the same space earlier with little difficulty.
Trouble is, this time, he was cold, hungry and physically and mentally tired. He got his chest hung up, and he briefly panicked and started hyperventilating. He waited for rescuers to coach him through it.
Freed from that, he worked his way through an angled part of the passage. He got hung up on his side, with one arm on a ledge. His leg and hip got caught.
Rescuers were right there. He had watched how quickly they freed his friend.
“I thought, half-hour tops, I’m out of here,” he said.
He lost track of time. He said he was continually praying as rescuers tried to free him, and they occasionally chatted with him.
He recalled how much he longed for the comfort of human contact while he was stuck. At one point, they gave him a drink of water, and the worker had to brush his hair from his face to get the bottle to his mouth.
“That was the most reassuring moment of the whole ordeal,” Eliasen said.
Rescuers chiseled away at the rock. They tried to tug him loose with ropes. He was alone occasionally for 10-20 minutes at a time when workers changed shifts. He knew rescuers were putting themselves at risk, too.
It was during a shift change when he told himself he would try to free himself. He tried three times but couldn’t find the strength to push his body onto the ledge and free his body. He tried once more.
“I prayed for the Lord to give me the last burst of strength,” he said. “I pushed.
“I didn’t go to where I thought I wanted to go, but everything went where it needed to go. I thank God, because it wasn’t me. It felt like I was being shoved out of there.”
Rescuers arrived with a note from his parents, Shawnelle and Lonny. His mother had written a passage from Psalms 139 on the note that told her how proud she was of him and “come out!”
Given something to eat and water to drink, they worked their way to the larger part of the cave where medical treatment began. Freed from the cave about 3 p.m. Saturday, he suffered scrapes on his body, dehydration and exhaustion.
Eliasen spent the night at Jackson County Regional Health Center. He received phone calls from worried younger brothers. A Maquoketa firefighter cooked a steak and baked potato and delivered it to the hospital.
He is grateful for the help of the rescuers, thoughts sent via Facebook and the many prayers for him.
“People I know and people I’ll never know prayed for me,” he said.