A soldier assigned to the 101st Airborne Division died this weekend in a rappelling accident at Stephen’s Gap — a cave in northern Alabama with a pit roughly 143 feet deep.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office identified the soldier as 20-year-old Pfc. Phillip W. Whitehead Jr.

Whitehead was a combat medic specialist assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Maj. Martin Meiners, a 101st public affairs officer, told Army Times.

“We send our deepest condolences to his family and friends," said Lt. Col. Laura Hutchinson, commander, 526th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

“Pfc. Whitehead was a valued member of our organization who lived a life dedicated to serving his country. His legacy and spirit will live on throughout the 101st Airborne Division,” Hutchinson added.

Investigators said Whitehead was climbing with a friend when the accident occurred Sunday night.

Whitehead’s friend reportedly rappelled the cave twice and was with him when he died.

“We can’t tell at this point what happened as far as if it was operator error or equipment malfunction, we’re 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,” Jackson County sheriff’s deputy Rocky Harnen told local media.

“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," Harnen added.

Whitehead joined the Army in 2017 and arrived at Fort Campbell in 2018.

He enlisted in the Army out of Deltona, Florida.

His awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon and Air Assault Badge.

The incident is under investigation by Army CID and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Meiners said.

Whitehead’s death at Stephen’s Gap was the second fatal fall at that location this year, the Associated Press reported.

Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer

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