A man fell into a deep pit and died while exploring a treacherous cave in southeastern Kentucky on Wednesday, officials said.
Crews worked for hours before finding and recovering the body of Steven Troxell, 21, who died of blunt force trauma, said Pulaski County Coroner Richard New.
Troxell and two companions were walking inside the Sloans Valley cave when he fell into the cone-shaped, 30-foot-deep pit. His companions called 911 about 3 p.m. EST, officials said. The coroner said the three were not experienced cavers.
The men were using "small flashlights" to explore the cave, an indication that they likely weren't using proper equipment, Pulaski County Rescue Squad Chief Paul Coomer told The Commonwealth Journal of Somerset.
The opening to the cave is located on private property, and it was not clear whether the owners were aware anyone was exploring it, New said.
Troxell's body was found about three-quarters of a mile inside the cave, which is part of a system that meanders about 25 miles beneath private and public lands in a part of Kentucky known for its outdoor recreation. The system is one of the longest in the world.
"It's probably one of the most treacherous caves in the county and probably in the cave system," New said.
Outside the cave opening, Troxell's family anxiously awaited word. His mother, Rita Troxell of Somerset, said she was stunned when she got the news her son had been inside the cave.
"He was always a scaredy-cat," she said, tears welling in her eyes. "I used to tell him he was scared of his own shadow. That's why I was surprised he went into the cave."
She said her son was a construction worker, but was unemployed.
Steven Troxell had been with friends Brandon Butt, 26, and Brooke Butt, 21, who made it out unharmed, New said.
Don Franklin, area manager for the state emergency management agency, said the pit where Troxell was found was dry, but crews had to navigate through a wet, muddy path full of rock falls and vertical climbs to get to him.
"This isn't the first recovery we've had here ... and it won't be the last," Franklin said.
In 2006, an Ohio man described as experienced died after falling from a ledge in the cave while attempting to climb out a particularly tricky exit.
Though Sloans Valley is a favorite cave system for spelunkers, inexperienced cavers are discouraged from attempting to navigate it, Franklin said.