Send us a suggestion!

Wolfe County SAR Rappelling accident: July 4, 2019

Discussion in 'Accidents and Near Misses' started by hank moon, Jul 8, 2019.

  1. hank moon

    hank moon kinetically bulbous

    Messages:
    1,471
    Likes:
    1,753
    Location:
    Zions
    https://www.facebook.com/WCSART/posts/2846129165401265

    As previously reported, our team Chief was involved in a rappelling accident on the night of July 4th. We felt it was important to share our conclusions of the incident. On the morning of July 5th, Chief May, Deputy Chief Hackett and Training officer Ryan completed an AAR (After action report). During the AAR, the equipment that was used, how it was rigged and photos along with first hand reports were all evaluated. We also discussed the setup and equipment that was used with outside sources for additional evaluation. Our summary follows: Chief May was rappelling on a 240’ 10mm dynamic rope using a climbing belay/rappel device. A 6mm pre-sewn Prussik cord, with 4 wraps was in place as an autoblock or conditional belay. Chief May weights 252lbs and was carrying and additional 20lbs of gear counting his pack, harness and rope equipment.

    During his rappel, he noted some difficulty in controlling his speed of descent and was unable to come to a complete stop. As he continued down the cliff with his feet still in contact with the cliff face, his speed was still under control although faster than you would like. At approx 90’ from the bottom, his feet were no longer able to make contact with the cliff face, his descent speed became rapid and the friction of the rope began to burn his hands. Chief May then descended through some large trees before making impact with the ground.

    This particular rappel device is designed to operate 10mm rope without adding the “pin” used for smaller diameter size ropes. We have concluded that with the total weight of Chief May and his equipment, along with the stretching of the dynamic rope (which decreases the overall diameter of the rope) the device did not adequately control his descent. During the initial part of the rappel, the weight of the rope hanging below him partially helped maintain control, but as he lowered further down the cliff, this effect was reduced. As a result of his speed and how quickly this all occurred, his autoblock did engage but not sufficiently to arrest his fall (Pics below show the rappel device that was used and the burn thru on the autoblock/6mm pre-sewn cord).We train to never let go of the rope and from the burns on the Chiefs hands, that never occurred. It was also noted that the autoblock never came into contact with his rappel device during his descent.

    In conclusion, our internal after action review has determined the system was rigged within manufacturer recommendations and backup safety measures were utilized appropriately. However the combination of this particular rappel device and the overall rappelling load may have a contributing factor. We will be evaluating how this specific rappel device will be used with the team moving forward.

    66495545_2846129062067942_2078323576338907136_n.

    66037354_2846129082067940_595676032258801664_n.

    66046000_2846129108734604_6535766006223077376_o.
  2. ratagonia

    ratagonia

    Messages:
    4,731
    Likes:
    5,819
    Location:
    Mount Carmel, Utah
  3. Rudolf The Red

    Rudolf The Red

    Messages:
    5
    Likes:
    0
    Location:
    Utah
    Seems like I have made this same comment a lot recently, but, some questions:

    1: No Gloves?
    2: Prussik info: What kind? Where tied on the rope? How many wraps, because 4 can mean 4 or 8. Why is there a burn mark on the joint of the prussik? A 6mm prussik failing on a 10mm rope is questionable.
    3:Was the rappeller using the braking technique correctly?
    4: What kind of an ATC is that? Why didnt they use a tried and true DCD if this was a SAR exercise? That thing doesnt even LOOK safe, let alone rated safe for a 260+ pound load
  4. ratagonia

    ratagonia

    Messages:
    4,731
    Likes:
    5,819
    Location:
    Mount Carmel, Utah
    A. There are lots of ways to do this kind of thing safely. Chief May found one of the many many ways that does not work. I do not think a 10-page discussion of all the different ways he could have done this safely would be fruitful.

    B. Thank you to the Chief and colleagues for writing up this report. Embarrassing though it should be.

    C. Prusik is spelled Prusik. Prusik is used to describe a specific rope-grabbing knot, and often to describe any knot in the general category of "rope-grab". So we know very little about the "backup" (or "backup theater") used, other than it did not work.

    D. I think it is clear from the report that this was a personal outing, rather than a SAR exercise. I guess it could have become a SAR exercise, though sounds like they self-rescued.

    To ME, the big takeaway is that the Chief was unaware that his rig was not going to work when he stepped over the edge, and he did not have a backup plan. This sounds a LOT like 3 or 4 or 10 incidents we hear of in Englestead each year. We assume the Chief is a SAR person, though maybe not. You would hope a SAR person would understand what he was doing better than this.

    Tom
    Rudolf The Red likes this.
  5. Canyonero

    Canyonero

    Messages:
    850
    Likes:
    856
    A few comments:

    # 1 Thanks for sharing. Often embarrassing to share your own mistakes but always helpful.

    # 2 Even experienced people make mistakes.

    # 3 Weight matters, and it matters a lot. I'm on the heavier side of canyoneers I would guess, probably 225 fully decked out with typical pack. I have found that I often have to rig more friction than most of my partners to have a controlled descent. My point is that device, rope, and rigging are heavily dependent on body weight. If your canyon weight is 50 lbs more than mine, the standard rigging of a device is probably not adequate for you. You need to do SOMETHING else, and that something is not just wearing gloves, not just asking for a fireman's belay, and not just putting on a back-up prusik. Sure, that device is fine with a 10mm rope...if you weigh 150 lbs. If you weigh 250, better either use an 11 mm rope, add additional friction, or use a different device.

    # 4 Prusik style back-ups provide a false sense of security and often fail when you most need them.

    # 5 I have no idea what that device is. Use the tried and true stuff. If you have gear that none of your partners are using, that's probably a bad sign. There's a reason certain devices become popular. I've also noticed that people who are into SAR, canyoneering classes, or Scouting tend to "gear freaks" with a lot of weird devices. I think you're better off with just a few tried and true pieces of equipment that you know well. I'd much rather be out with someone on his fourth CRITR2 than someone with four different rappel devices in his pack.
    Albula Vulpes and Rudolf The Red like this.
  6. Rudolf The Red

    Rudolf The Red

    Messages:
    5
    Likes:
    0
    Location:
    Utah
    I apologize for not spelling Prusik correctly. Thanks for pointing that out...

    These questions are what I would ask the Chief, not everyone in the forum. During an AAR these are legitimate questions that are important to ask. And it sounds like they DID complete an AAR, which included a Deputy Chief and a Training Officer, which, to me, sounds a lot like it happened during some sort of official exercise. I have no idea though, it is not mentioned.

    I in no way intended to berate anyone involved in the incident, I am just asking questions. I think that discussing the possible factors leading up to an incident like this is a great way learn. That it why we complete AAR's.

    When I asked "What kind of Prusik" that is exactly what I meant....what kind of Prusik was used. There are many types out there, and weight of a load is definitely a factor to take into account when choosing which type to use.

    One question to you Canyonero, wouldn't any style back up be a false sense of security, in that aspect? I would much rather have a hands-free backup than not have one, however, one should always be on their A-game while on-rope.
  7. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

    Messages:
    988
    Likes:
    1,028
    Location:
    Salt Lake City
    Interesting commentary/review about/of the device:

    https://www.outdoorgearlab.com/reviews/climbing/belay-device/mad-rock-mad-lock

    Finally, while you can add friction by wrapping the rope around the hook, if you don't do this there is less friction than is common with other devices.

    I think, most likely, the device was made for rappelling double strand (and belaying double strand, as well, on thicker ropes). And, it was discontinued in 2009, 10 years ago.

    No way I'd rappel single strand on that device without an immediate option for adding additional friction. Looks like it runs way more wide open than an ATC-XP or a Petzl Reverso 4. I tried an old, original Reverso years ago and didn't like the lack of friction for a rappel. Looks very similar in design.

    Note that in the FB post, the device had not been extended. Makes me wonder if the Prusik (geez, hope I spelled that write...ha ha) contacted the rap device. The thread also mentions that the Chief was wearing gloves.

    Chief is a big guy. Glad he's going to be ok. Whew!

    From the Chief hisself (I added the bold):

    I’ve been asked so many times about my injuries from the rescue, I thought a quick update would be appropriate. I was rappelling off the side of Chimney Rock which is approx 200’ high. During my descent, it became apparent very early on that my rappel device was not providing enough friction to control my speed properly. My backup safety device known as an autoblock was also not performing as expected. When i was around 90’ above the ground, I essentially lost control of my speed and was in a free fall situation. I ended up going through a large tree and landing on my back. We believe i was unconscious for a couple of minutes. When I came back around, i assessed my injuries and knew right away I was hurt and shouldn’t move. I asked my teammates to send down our medic Michael Dean Hackett. While lying at the bottom in the darkness, not really knowing if i was going to survive this or not, I was at peace with the situation. I felt sadness for my wife and daughter who had no idea of what was happening and for my teammates who were now having to deal with this terrible situation. My teammates.....My teammates are true heroes. They pulled themselves together after hearing me hit the ground some 200’ below them and immediately jumped back into rescue mode. I was never more proud of them as i was now a recipient of all their dedication and hard work. I want to say Thank you to each of them for all they do. I ended up with two fractured vertebrae’s in my back and some pretty severe rope burns to both hands from where i was trying to stop my free fall. I’ll be in a back brace for a few weeks but I’m expected to make a full recovery. Thank you for everyone that stopped by, called, texted or messaged through FB. It’s much appreciated.
  8. Canyonero

    Canyonero

    Messages:
    850
    Likes:
    856
    I think the idea behind these prusik style back-ups is that if you let go or go out of control they're supposed to stop you. But in reality, even when experienced people are using them and apparently correctly, they don't actually work. So you think you're backed-up, when you really aren't. I think the best, easiest, and quickest back-up, at least for all but the first guy down, is a fireman's belay. We should all be better about routinely using them. The safest back-up is a separate top rope belay on a separate anchor. That's what I use when I take other peoples' children rappelling. But it's a bit of a pain to use routinely.
Similar Threads: Wolfe County
Forum Title Date
Accidents and Near Misses Heat Death at The Wave, Kane County Jul 31, 2018
Trip Reports Deadhorse Creek, Whatcom County, Washington Sep 15, 2017
Accidents and Near Misses Rappelling Fatality in Utah County Jul 27, 2016
General Discussion Emery County SAR training video Aug 21, 2014
General Discussion Getting stuck in Van Buren County cave doesn't stop 71-year-old caver Feb 5, 2014
Accidents and Near Misses New slot canyon discovered in Orange County?? Dec 3, 2013