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Man dies in cave 'doing what he loved'

November 26, 2013 | 09:19 AM

Timothy McLain, 49, of Brownsburg died while caving Saturday evening on private property near Corydon. Indiana Conservation Officer Jim Schreck said in a statement Sunday that authorities think the cause of death was a medical issue. An autopsy Monday confirmed that McLain died as a result of cardiac arrest.

Timothy McLain (click for larger version)
Close friend Rand Heazlitt, who was not initially with the group but joined to help with the recovery, also said prior to the autopsy that it was almost certainly a massive heart attack.

Heazlitt, who also is the Harrison County Parks Dept. superintendent, said he and McLain have spent the last 4-1/2 years working on "hard-core" special caving projects and had just had breakfast together Saturday to discuss their plans for a Thanksgiving exploration.

"He died doing what he loved doing," Heazlitt said Monday, adding that he and McLain caved together probably 48 out of 52 weeks of the year.

Heazlitt said McLain was an exceptional person and was the smallest member of the group, so he was always the one to fit into the small crevices in the cave.

"He probably was the first to see more of the caves than anyone," Heazlitt said.

McLain was with eight other experienced cavers two or three miles into the Blowing Hole section of the Binkley Cave system, now the state's longest and ninth longest in the country. Indiana Caverns is a part of the Binkley Cave system.

McLain was part of a support team doing exploration when he fell onto the wet cave floor. Those with McLain said he was laughing and cutting up just before collapsing, Heazlitt said. Those with him tried for several hours to resuscitate him.

McLain's body was removed by Heazlitt and a couple of other members of their caving group early Sunday morning.

"We were happy it was us bringing him out," Heazlitt said.

It took about 4-1/2 hours to remove the body from the cave.

Heazlitt said that the portion of the cave where the group was Saturday evening is treacherous, with chest-deep waters and tight crevices requiring cavers to take part in strenuous crawls to maneuver. Heazlitt reiterated that this wasn't a caving accident; McLain was in a wide-open area when he collapsed, he said.

"He wasn't doing anything life-threatening," he said.

Heazlitt said the recovery effort went without a hitch.

The National Cave Rescue Commission, Indiana Speological Society, Harrison County Sheriff's Dept., Harrison County Emergency Management Agency, Harrison Township Volunteer Fire Dept., Harrison County Emergency Medical Services and other volunteer cavers assisted in the effort.

Heazlitt said about 100 people were on the scene for the recovery.

"All very, very skilled volunteers," Schreck said of the caving team members.

In August, McLain wrote a blog entry on Indiana Caverns' website about finding a new river in Binkley Cave.

"Binkley Cave continues to amaze us, allowing us to keep expanding its boundaries further and further, while fueling further speculation about where it will go," he wrote. "It keeps us excited and motivated to find out ... "

McLain was a part of the ISS team that helped explore Binkley Cave and led to Indiana Caverns.

Twitter: @rossschulz

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Corydon Democrat, 301 N. Capitol Ave., Corydon, IN 47112 1-812-738-2211 email