Cave Rescue, July 3, 1978
Canadian Hole, WV


At 12:30 p.m on July 3, John Gerber (23) and four companions entered Canadian Hole in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.

At about 9:30 p.m. the group was exiting the cave and was at the third of five pits of the entrance series. Gerber went up first. About 30 feet up he came to a very narrow slot. The rope was rigged with a sling at the top so that it came down through the widest part of this slot. It is a difficult place. Gerber was using a two-Jumar "modified Texas" but couldn't quite get his entire body into the slot. After struggling for 20 minutes he decided to rappel back down. Speaking to those below, he related that he couldn't get his chest Jumar off and asked for a knife. None was available. He apparently burned the chest Jumar sling through with his lamp. It was observed that he dropped a fot or so and was heard to say "I can't breathe!" He struggled for a minute, then went limp.

As Gerber burned his chest Jumar sling, he dropped due to slack above his rack. Unfortunately his Joe Brown (Ultimate) helmet caught in the crack and his chin strap strangled him. After 20 mintes, another caver was able to ascend and free him from the crevice. He was lowered to the floor where CPR failed to revive him.

A rescue call went out and a large group of cavers carried out the body removal. Some difficulty was encountered from the tight, wet vertical nature of the cave and stiffening of the body from rigor mortis.


NSS News, May 1981 (Part 2) V39N5, Page A48.

Editor "Fatality in Canadian Hole" Subterranean Sun 8:7 July 1978 p 1.

Doc Dogherty "Letter to the Editor" NSS News 36:9 Sept. 1978 p 202.

Editor "Death in Canadian Hole" NSS News 37:2 Feb. 1979 p 31.

Doug Medville "Letter to the Editor" D.C. Speleograph 34:9 Aug. 1978 p 20.


How many cavers would have been aware of such a possibility? Obviously a chin-cup strap arrangement rather than the more common under-the-chin type would have prevented the fatality.