Two deaths at Stephens Gap since April

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In just the past few months, two people have died at the same cave in Jackson County.

On Saturday, 20-year-old Phillip Whitehead fell to his death while rappelling down the keyhole of Stephens Gap cave. His death marks the second one at Stephens Gap within the last few months, but there have been even more deaths in the last few years.

To hike at the Stephens Gap Preserve, hikers have to sign a release form and get a permit. Most people hike the trail for the view. There’s a pit that is around 140 feet deep and a keyhole popular among rappelers.

The Huntsville Cave Rescue Unit has helped in several rescues at Stephens Gap. They recommend that people get trained before climbing or rappelling at the cave and that hikers be cautious when visiting the preserve.

Chief of Operations for the Huntsville Cave Rescue Unit, Brian Bailey, said, “If you plan on visiting the site, go to the Southeastern Cave Conservancy website and get a permit, and they have trails. Stay on the marked trails, and stay away from the edge of the pit. Use good common sense.”

If you want to learn more about rappelling, the Huntsville Cave Rescue Unit holds safety classes several times each year.

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