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West Virginia, Quarry near Ridgley

W. Virginia, Quarry near Ridgley—On 13 October, Donald R. Anderson (20) fell about 35 feet when his rappel rope broke while rappelling in a quarry near Ridgley, W. Va. There were three others in the party. The purpose was to practice rappelling prior to spelunking. Rope used was 7/16 inch manila purchased in early 1956, three strand, other characteristics are unknown. The break occurred in the portion of rope in mid-air, not in contact with rock. Rappel was made on a single length tied at the top of the overhanging slope. Break was perpendicularly across all three strands of the rope and there was no indication of a previous cut. The rope had been used in a dozen or more caves, usually for a hand line or belay rope. It had also been used by others for such things as lashing furniture on a truck. As far as is known the rope had not been used for a tow line or other heavy strain. Two weeks before the accident the rope had been loaned to another caver who used it in a wet, muddy cave. The rope was not washed or dried after this use but was left on a basement floor for some days and later stored for a further indefinite time in the trunk of a car.

Anderson fell on his feet into about 18 inches of water and loose rock. He sustained a temporary paralysis of his legs for a few minutes after the fall, but was ambulatory shortly afterward. Later x-rays showed hair-line fractures of veretebrae L-l and L-2.

Anderson had been exploring caves for three years. He is a member of the National Speleological Society. He had used climbing ropes for about 6 months for rappelling, prusiking, and some belaying from above.

Source: From Anderson; reported by A. C. Lambeck.

Analysis: The object lesson of this accident is one of rope care including examination and testing prior to use on a given trip and the necessity for extreme selectivity when lending a rope to anyone. A nylon rope may initially be more costly but the resistance it has to unfavorable conditions, as well as its other more important characteristics, makes it the cheapest form of insurance—one day of hospitalization and medical care buys one or more nylon ropes. A climbing rope should be used only for climbing.