Accident At New River Gorge Offers Learning Experience

Accident At New River Gorge Offers Learning Experience

Over the weekend there was a tragic accident at West Virginia’s New River Gorge where a woman fell to her death from the anchors of a route she was preparing to clean.  While the exact details are not clear, the informed speculation is that the potentially incorrect usage of  Petzl STRINGs on both of the woman’s anchor slings could have caused the accident.

The scenario is a bit hard to explain in words, but this video does a pretty good job of depicting what can go wrong when you use rubber bands or something like the Petzl STRING on open webbing slings.  There is also this explicit warning on the Petzl website that shows what can go wrong as well.

I don’t think I’ve ever used this kind of setup personally, but I’ll admit that I never realized the possible consequences of it either.  Hopefully this sad story can at least have the positive effect of helping people avoid this potentially dangerous scenario.

Obviously none of this speculation will help ease the pain of those who knew this woman.  My thoughts are definitely with them in this tough time.

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27 Responses to Accident At New River Gorge Offers Learning Experience

  1. paulo June 16, 2010 at 11:55 am #

    Tragic. We must learn from it. It is always a small unthinking choice that can cause such a disaster.

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  2. Egghead June 16, 2010 at 11:56 am #

    That is awful, and WOW on the British video explaining the dangers of this setup. Scary. Thanks for the post.

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  3. mose June 17, 2010 at 11:56 am #

    Hi y’all, this accident reminds me of a incident that occurred last year in CA with a helicopter crew of Forest Service wildland firefighters. During a training exercise the victim began to rappel from a hovering helicopter and fell to his death. During the aftermath it was learned that the locking ‘biners on his rig had been improperly attached, rather than aluminum intersecting aluminum, the ‘biners were held in place by a small rubber ring. Similar to the Petzl Strings, these little rings are a matter of convenience and not designed to take any significant load. They’re also small and unobtrusive and can easily give the impression that they are correctly aligned, even when there are critical flaws.

    To compound the firefighter’s tragedy, his rig had been checked by several other team members, including supervisors, none of whom caught the mistake. I imagine that this climber’s partners, like most of us, have a similar safety-check routine, and I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to be there in the moments after the tragedy. My heart goes out to everyone involved.

    In the firefighter example, the Forest Service is improving its protocols to make it more difficult for something like this to ever happen again, and there is currently a freeze on helicopter rappelling. Amongst us climbers, this incident might teach us all something about safety… I doubt Petzl will recall the strings, and I don’t think they should, but we all need to think about the gear choices we make and the doo-dads that we trust our lives to. We need to be using systems that are simple, easy to get right, easy to check and redundant. We all know what it’s like to be physically & emotionally strung out in sphincter-puckering territory and still need make instantaneous & crucial decisions. Those are moments when I want my gear to be idiot proof.

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  4. so sorry to hear June 17, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    First off so sorry to hear about what happened. This should turn focus to increasing popularity of sport/bouldering and the lack of info being passed on to the next generation. The kid that brought me into climbing knew NOTHING and had been into sport for a decade. Gym climbing makes people use to the sport without the risk and knoxledge. I was just as guilty for a period of time.

    This issue has nothing to do with the petzel strings (never new that’s what they were called). This has to do with the draws that have multiple threads connecting the carabiners. I’ve seen those black diamonds do some scary things before. Spirits are the only thing found on my rack for a good reason.

    My heart goes out to all those who knew this woman and hope that this will teach those to learn before doing. I know she would wish the same.

    Safe crushing and double check your partner no matter how many years you’ve been crushin

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    • Narc June 17, 2010 at 2:27 pm #

      Unless you have other knowledge how can you say this has nothing to do with the STRINGs??

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      • sorry to hear June 17, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

        I was speaking more in terms of the vid Narc. I don’t see how, if you are using the strings as they were intended on the spirits, that they could affect anything except stability in placing draws. If you use strings on smaller draws, or rig things like in the vid, it seems so clear how these things can malfunction. I’m not trying to hate on black diamond and by no means am I am petzel rep, but I’ve heard climbing guides show me specific examples on how if you climbing a route that zig zags that they can twist and really put people in dangger. I’m not communicating this well so I am sorry for that. I ran to my box of gear that has dust due to a little nagging year long injury to see how in the world a sring on a spirit could malfunction. I could not figure it out but if the string are defective petzel is going to have a massive law suite. Please narc keep us posted if there are any findings on petzel gear or recalls.

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        • Narc June 17, 2010 at 4:19 pm #

          As far as I know there’s been nothing in this incident that had to do with the Spirits. Those are the sorts of devices that band devices like the STRINGs are designed to be used safely with.

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    • John K. June 17, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

      I can agree with you on the fact that many climbers have no knowledge of these simple things. A buddy of mine has been climbing for way more years than me, but he knew nothing of trad, he top ropes off of the chains (with no carabiners), he repells off the chains with no biners. And when I tell him what he’s doing wrong, he wont take me seriously because he has more “climbing” experience than me.

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      • Stup June 17, 2010 at 5:36 pm #

        So you alway leave biners when you’re rapping down chains?!

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        • John K. June 18, 2010 at 9:49 am #

          No. I meant he lowers off of the chains with no biners.

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          • polaropposite June 18, 2010 at 10:39 am #

            “he repells off the chains with no biners.”

            “I meant he lowers off of the chains with no biners.”

            Solid advice bro…

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      • be careful June 20, 2010 at 9:20 am #

        John sounds like ya got a good head on your shoulders. I had to stop climbing with certain friends cause the older I got the more I saw that their ignorance was putting me in danger. To put another way, tell him to shut the hell up and listen to ya so we can all be safer in the long run and crush for years to come.

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  5. stevenosloan June 17, 2010 at 11:14 pm #

    Sad news for sure, I’ve been using a similar setup for long-draws for a while…will be changing that for sure.

    Good reminder though, always test yourself on the anchor before you untie the rope…atleast the next draw should catch you if something goes wrong.

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  6. @polaropposite June 18, 2010 at 3:23 pm #

    lowering off of chains makes the rope run through the chains with all of your weight on it.
    With repelling, the only time the rope runs through the chains is when you’re pulling it through, after you’re already on the ground.

    So yeah, it actually was solid advice…BRO

    As for the accident, my sympathy go to her freinds and family

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    • well said June 20, 2010 at 9:33 am #

      Just have to chime in and say well said. Polaropposite’s comment shows the lack of knowledge…and I’m sure that he/she climbs well and that is even the scarier part BRO!?!?

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  7. ? June 20, 2010 at 5:00 pm #

    I’m trying to figure out why the “classic of the area” has rap rings instead of in-situ carabiners for lowering.

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    • Narc June 21, 2010 at 6:01 am #

      I don’t know about at the New, but at the Red River Gorge it is fairly uncommon for routes to have carabiners on the chains. Where do you climb that this is surprising??

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  8. Darryl June 21, 2010 at 3:43 am #

    It is pretty chilling to think about a fatality at an area like RRG. Thanks for posting the link to the video. I’d have never imagined such a scenario.

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  9. ? June 21, 2010 at 7:49 pm #

    Narc,

    I climb mostly in the southwest. I haven’t seen a rap ring at a sport area, or even a mixed one in ages. The average route at least has chains or welded cold shuts. The 10a area classic at a well-traveled area usually has biners for speed, safety, and it easier to replace a biner than chain.

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    • ejw June 21, 2010 at 11:34 pm #

      This is more common in “newer” sport areas, from what I have seen. The Red, the New- all over the east/southeast you are more likely to find chains, rap anchors, or maybe just two bolt hangars staring back at you when you reach the finishing anchors.

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  10. ? June 21, 2010 at 7:55 pm #

    I find rap rings pointless and weak (150 lbs each?!). I can’t help but think that if she had not had to go off belay (yes, of course she should have tested the system with body weight first) to pull the rope and then rappel on said rings, this accident would have been avoided.

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  11. Karmavore June 22, 2010 at 2:12 am #

    I equip dozens of new routes each year, and have NO problem with people lowering through chains. If the chains are of sufficient quality (3/8″ proof coil) they are good for hundreds if not thousands of lowers, provided that the area doesn’t have unusual weathering situations (e.g. I’ve noticed that the grit at Smith Rocks tends to wear the chain prematurely). The bottom line is to INSPECT each element of the anchoring system before you commit to it. For a chain to be sufficiently weak for both sides to fail would require truly exceptional wear, and is easily avoided by rappelling (not spelling) from unworn links above.

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  12. Jonni Lehtiranta June 30, 2010 at 11:00 am #

    Lowering off the chain means that there are 10-20 loops, and if any single one of these or either bolt fails, it’s game over for you.

    Any fixed rap ring I’d see around would be really thick and sturdy, and connected to two bolts with two separate chains (or directly to one bolt, chained to another).

    Personally I like to put my rope through some metal loop that has separate connections to two bolts and inspecting this one loop with extra care. It’s simply the principle of minimizing the consequences of some random element failing.

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    • Stup June 30, 2010 at 11:32 am #

      Not sure what kind of chain you’re talking about, but the ones I know have two bolts, connected with chains. So if you feed two elements of these there need to be at least 2 pieces of metal failing for you to deck.

      Which is rather unlikely…

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  13. Ben July 20, 2010 at 9:19 pm #

    Why was the climber not still on belay? If she clipped the anchors and yelled safe, she surely should still be on belay, with an overhand with a biner or something similar in place while threading??

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    • Narc July 21, 2010 at 7:17 am #

      I believe she was planning on rapping off

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  14. Jeff July 22, 2010 at 9:24 pm #

    Lowering tip: http://www.pyb.co.uk/information/top-tips/top-tips-lowering.php (note, on this page the demonstrator has only one sling from harness to anchor. I always use two, one to each anchor.)

    Check, double check, and then check again.

    Of course if she was rapping down then that is different. Truly sad. I was at the red about a month ago when a girl decked from the second bolt. She went to hospital but released same day, no major injuries. It still spooked us all for the rest of the day.

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