On February 29th, a line of strong and severe storms tore through the state sending up severe thunderstorm warnings, tornado warnings, and flash flood warnings.
At Hidden River Cave, Peggy Nimns had taken a group of eight out-of-state high school seniors and their teacher into the cave for a three hour off-trail tour while the sun was shining, but the situation turned almost tragic once it began to rain.
While there are indicators within the cave for guides to know about conditions within the cave and on the surface, Nimns' group was a mile and a half deep in the passages and had no idea the cave was flooding due to a flash flood.
Joe Forsythe could see the increasing danger, and after waiting to see if the group emerged from the cave, he decided to go in after the group.
"We were absolutely bone dry when he found us. We were turning around at that point, but had no idea that the water had gone from ankle deep to basically over my head in a short amount of time," recalls Nimns
When Forsythe entered the cave, the water at the entrance was knee deep, but by time he found the group and they reached the entrance to go back out, the water was anywhere from six to eight feet deep.
"What was up to my waist is now 6 to 8 feet deep. I'm now swimming through it," remembers Forsythe.
Executive Director David Foster had tied a hand line for the group, and Forsythe used some rope to attach to his waist to help guide the group out of the cave.
After navigating the different ledges and areas of water on foot and by swimming, the group reached the ledge and was able to use the stairs to exit the cave.
On the surface, emergency response vehicles were arriving as hope had begun to fade that the group would be able to escape the flooding cave.
Almost immediately, Forsythe began being hailed a hero by his friends and co-workers, "I'm glad you go everyone out safely. Good job. You're our hero. And my biggest response was that I don't feel like a hero I just did what anyone else would have done."
The students dried off and left the cave, but when they returned home they and their teacher made sure to thank both Forsythe and Nimns for all that they did that day.
For quick thinking and bravery that saved lives, we honor Joe Forsythe as a Hometown Hero.