LAFAYETTE, N.J. -- A Boy Scout leader, entombed for more than three days in a cave 17 feet underground, was pulled dead from a narrow crevice blocked by a rock that had pressed tighter on him whenever he moved backwards.
The body of state trooper Sgt. Donald Weltner, 48, who became trapped in the 18 -inch by 20-inch crevice Saturday afternoon while leading a scout expedition, was freed from the limestone cave late Tuesday night following 80 hours of nonstop rescue efforts.
He had been officially pronounced dead 20 minutes before the body was pulled out by the workers, including Pennslyvania coal miners, who had used drills, dynamite, jackhammers, heavy equipment and finally their bare hands to gouge away the bedrock and dirt.
But Dr. Lucien Fletcher Jr. said the trapped man had been dead 'for some time' before the death pronouncement.
After his body was removed blood could be seen on the limestone boulder where his head had lain, but it was unclear if he had suffered an injury from a rock that fell on him at the time he became trapped or from stones loosened during the drilling and blasting.
The officer's brother, Carl, who is also a scout leader, stood silently in the ankle deep mud at the site as Weltner's body was removed and placed in a waiting ambulance.
The body was to be transferred to Newton Memorial Hospital for an autopsy today.
'Today for the first time we saw what occurred. The sergeant (Weltner) dislodged a stone which acted as a key stone,' State Police Superintendent Col. Clinton Pagano said. 'When he tried to move back it tightened. When he moved forward it loosened.'
'He lost a good deal of blood which accounted for his rapid demise,' Pagano said.
Weltner's wife, who had kept a tense vigil in her Perrineville home about 60 miles away, was notified and several troopers were at her side when she received the news, Pagano said.
The 22-year police veteran who was an experienced spelunker was leading 12 Boy Scouts, including his two sons, when he crawled into an uncharted passsge in the Crooked Swamp Cave -- New Jersey's longest cave - in the Sparta Mountains in the rural north central part of the state and became trapped.
His two sons, Christopher, 12, and Roger, 14, and another scoutmaster, Jim Ewing, apparently tried for several hours to rescue him before notifying authorities.
Weltner had remained coherent for several hours after the accident, talking to rescue workers and even asking them to tell his wife he would be late arriving home.
State police said they last heard grunts from him at 2 a.m. Sunday. By Monday morning Pagano said they could find no vital signs, but rescue workers never stopped placing hot water bottles on the trooper's head and feet in the remote chance he could be kept alive.