AN experienced caver died in a rockfall while excavating new passages to explore underground.
David Briggs' two colleagues rushed to get help after a section of cave collapsed at Aston Hill Farm near Pikehall on Saturday morning – launching a desperate rescue operation.
It is thought to be the first caving death in Derbyshire for about 15 years.
A spokesperson for the Derbyshire Cave Rescue Organisation (DCRO) said: "People go caving every week and the vast majority do so very safely.
"But like anything else, like driving your car, things occasionally, tragically, go wrong."
The three-man caving party were said to be "swallet holing" – a practice of digging to extend cave networks. They had been working on the site, near to the Via Gellia Road, for a number of weeks.
Police named the man as 37-year-old David James Briggs, a tiler, of Warmwells Lane, Ripley.
A DCRO spokesperson added: "Many people try to excavate and extend caves as this is one of the only original exploration opportunities on the planet.
"More caves are found and extended all the time. A lot of swallet holing goes on and, for the most part, can be done safely.
"The exact circumstances of this death we don't know, but this man appears to have been the first to enter a chamber and this boulder struck him.
"Paramedics experienced in caving were the first to reach him and confirmed he was dead. The conditions were very difficult even though he was not too far underground – about 15 feet down a shaft.
"The safest way of recovering his body was by using a JCB to excavate the surface and break into the cavity where he was trapped.
"The whole operation took about seven-and-a-half hours."
A file on Mr Briggs' death is being prepared for the coroner.
Caving had been Mr Briggs' hobby for 20 years, and had taken him all over the world.
He was unmarried and had no children.
His mother Margaret and twin sister Kathryn said: "Although we are very upset about the death of our son and brother, we get some comfort believing that if he had to go any way, he died doing the thing he loved."
By Richard Woolley