Coconino County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Jon Paxton told CNN that “five folks were exiting the caverns when the elevator stopped working. Believing it was an electrical problem, a generator was brought in. It’s not an electrical problem. It’s a mechanical problem”.
The group of five stayed at a motel suite at the bottom of the cavern. The tourist attraction is located around 65 miles northeast of Kingman, Mr Paxton added.
“The Cavern put the people up in a motel, and there is a small restaurant at the bottom, and the motel is working to make the people as comfortable as possible while they are down there,” he told CNN before the rescue.
While there are 21 flights of stairs going to the bottom, including platforms and ladders, a number of those trapped were unable to make the climb.
“We have a search and rescue team standing by as well as a hoisting apparatus to lift people out if the repairs take longer than expected or if people are not comfortable staying down there,” Mr Paxton said during the ordeal.
The rescue team ended up lifting the people up from the cavern, according to ABC15.
All of the tourists had been rescued by 8pm on Monday – three others had been rescued earlier.
Sherry Jimenez spent almost 30 hours in the caverns.
“I can’t say thank you enough because they did everything so professionally, so safe,” she told ABC.
The rescue operations took approximately 25 minutes each.
The tourists said they entered the caverns around noon on Sunday to take part in a tour lasting around half an hour.
Two members of the group of five were in their 70s. One individual could have left via the staircase, but chose to remain with their relatives.
A woman named only as Felicia told ABC15 that she was in the caverns for around ten hours with her two daughters, aged two years and five months. She climbed out via the stairs while holding the railing.
“I’m super frustrated because it’s 2022, almost 2023, and I think handicap accessible should definitely be advanced by now. You have nothing for somebody in a wheelchair to get out,” she said.
The Grand Canyon Caverns’ website states that the caverns “were created over 65 million years ago” and that they were “formed within the limestone that was once the bottom of an ancient inland sea that divided North America”.
They’re the “largest dry caverns” in the US, the site states.
While there’s accommodation on ground level, the site states that on the bottom, you can “experience the deepest, darkest, quietest, hotel room in the world”.