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Tourists stranded underground at Arizona’s Grand Canyon Caverns are back on surface

By Amy Simonson and Rebekah Riess, CNN

The tourists who had become stuck about 200 feet underground at the Grand Canyon Caverns in Peach Springs, Arizona, on Sunday when an elevator malfunctioned have all been brought back to the surface with the help of local fire departments.

Six people had become stranded at the tourist site after an elevator stopped working around noon on Sunday, including a family of four with two young children, and a second couple, according to Seligman Fire Chief Gary Bennett.

Firefighters with the Seligman Fire District were able to help the family of four up the approximately 21 flights of stairs to the surface between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Sunday evening.

According to Bennett, the husband of the second couple was also able to take the stairs to the surface, but decided to return to the cavern to stay with his wife at the motel suite located at the bottom of the caverns on Sunday night until the elevator became operational again.

That couple took the elevator back to the surface on Monday.

Douglas Grashel and his stepdaughter Sherry Jimenez told CNN on Tuesday night that they were stuck underground for more than 30 hours before they were able exit the site.

Grashel said he learned the elevator malfunctioned around 11:30 a.m. Sunday after his group did a short tour.

“And by that time, you could smell the smoke in the elevator shaft and see the smoke coming down into the cavern,” Grashel told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on Tuesday night.

Grashel was also trapped with his wife, a toddler and a baby — so the family wasn’t physically able to use the emergency staircase ladder, which was more than 20 flights long.

Jimenez described the stairs as having “a steel plank that was smaller than the size of a regular ladder,” with inadequate handrail protection. “There was no measure of protection from the stair to the top of the handrail,” she said of the emergency stairs.

“There was no way in the world that we were going to be able to make it up,” Grashel said. “I’ve got back surgery scheduled. My wife’s got two artificial knees and is having trouble with those.

The Seligman Fire District was assisted in the operation by the Ash Fork Fire Department and the Peach Springs Fire Department.

Officials originally said that five people were stranded in the caverns.

“Yesterday 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,” Jon Paxton, a spokesperson for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, told CNN on Monday.

CNN reached out to The Grand Canyon Caverns for additional details.

The Grand Canyon Caverns is a tourist attraction that allows visitors to tour inside an ancient underground cave, dine and stay in a motel, according to its website.

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