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Loss of Control — Rappel, No Belay, No Hard Hat, Inexperience, North Carolina, Table Rock


North Carolina, Table Rock

On August 16,1986, a father and two sons were top-roping and rappelling at a popular training area. Their equipment was a few carabiners and some Goldline rope. Seat harnesses were made using Goldline ropes. I observed from about 100 meters east at thetop of another climb. Older son (12) clipped in to Goldline to rappel using a single wrap around a carabiner. Clearly nervous. Under direction from father, he backed over the edge out of sight. About ten seconds later, there was a long scream (two or three seconds), then a thud. A few seconds later the screaming started again, much to my relief. My climbing partner and I ran over to find son and father together, both shaking very much. Son started to go into shock, father lost as to what to do.

We got the victim out of his seat, determined that his ankle was badly sprained and then dressed a variety of abrasions. His back was badly abraded crosswise, indicating that he had been out of control during the rappel. After all were calmed down and injuries temporarily dressed, the father took off with the son, carrying him. Other son took gear. (Source: Stephen Perry)


The victim fell 12 meters. He was wearing shorts and running shoes, but no helmet. He was not belayed. The boy’s father was using the old U.S. Army rappel, but with only a single wrap and no gloves for the rappeller. As Stephen Perry, the climber who reported the accident pointed out, “Somebody—anybody—briefing them on rock could have prevented this.” But they were isolated from other groups, set up fast, and then the accident happened quickly.

This accident is included in the data base, though clearly the leader and victim are not climbers. The equipment and techniques used suggest that the father may have learned some climbing while in the military, or from an out-of-date field manual. (Source: Stephen Perry and J. Williamson)