Woodville, Ala. (WAFF) - We’re learning new details about a fatal fall inside Stephens Gap Cave in Jackson County.
What should have been a dream vacation for a 20-year-old from Florida turned into a nightmare for his family and friends on Saturday.
Members of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office say Philip Whitehead died when he was trying to rappel down the 140-foot tall cave.
“We can’t tell at this point what happened as far as if it was operator error or equipment malfunction, were obviously looking into that. We have those things in custody. We do know at some point there was a pop and he fell to the ground,” said deputy Rocky Harnen.
The cave is private property and you can only enter if you have a permit. Deputies say Whitehead is from Florida and was a member of the military and like a lot of people came to the area with a friend on vacation.
“Stephens Gap Cave is beautiful, it’s absolutely gorgeous and a lot of cavers like to go to it, slot of rappellers like to go to it because it’s kind of set up for that,” said Harnen.
Whiteheads friend was able to rappel the cave twice and was with Philip when he died. “I’m not a climbing expert, but I do know they use metal objects, figure eights, carabiners, things like that, that attach to their harness fir securing them to the rope. It’s some sort of sound that the metal may have popped and we don’t know whether it broke, we’re looking into that,” said Harnen.
Members of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office have all of Whitehead’s equipment and they’re conducting an investigation to determine what caused that popping sound.