FALL ON ROCK, EXCEEDING ABILITIES, INADEQUATE SUPERVISION AND INSTRUCTION, POOR JUDGMENT, IMPROPER PROCEDURE, ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION
Michigan, Oak Park, Grand Ledge
On May 5, 1991, about 1550, Kathy Wizinsky (27) fell 30 to 35 feet to the ground while on a “top roped” climb known as Ultimate Bushwack (5.5). She sustained multiple fractures, cuts and bruises. Wizinsky was part of a group of seven climbers out for the day at a local climbing site known as “The Ledges” in Grand Ledge, Michigan. The group leaders were Paul Konarski (38), Justin Rundle (30+) and Bob Vipond. At least three group members had no previous climbing experience including Wizinsky.
While instructing a beginner course in rock climbing at the base of the cliffs, I was asked by climbers who had witnessed the accident to lend assistance. Myself and my assistant instructor, Matt Patten, were EMTs. We stopped class and grounded all students and then responded to the accident which occurred about 25 yards from us. We immediately sent a climber to request an ambulance and backboard.
When I got to the victim she was lying on her left side in a semi-fetal position. There were members of her group trying to move her while several bystanders heatedly tried to convince them not to move her. I identified myself as an EMT and along with Patten convinced them not to move her. We then proceeded to treat the injured climber (Wizinsky). We took an initial set of vital signs, determined potential extent of injuries and then proceeded to treat and stabilize the victim.
When emergency services arrived on scene, another set of vitals was taken and all medical data was relayed to them. Wizinsky was then backboarded and evacuated by climbers and emergency personnel to a waiting ambulance where she was transported to a local hospital for treatment. Wizinsky was conscious and responsive throughout the experience. I later spoke to the victim in the hospital where I learned that she had sustained injuries including a shattered left ankle requiring surgery, a broken tailbone and a broken pelvis. After extensive interviews with the victim, participants and bystanders, the causes and factors which contributed to the accident were determined.
The Ledges are used as a “top rope” site exclusively. The local ethic is to get lowered on the rope upon completing a climb rather than “topping it out.” This reduces ecological damage from human activity at the tops of the cliffs. This fact is important because the group involved in this incident was not abiding by this local standard. When local climbers informed them of this, they then followed the local norm. The accident occurred on their first attempt at lowering a climber in this manner.
Witnesses state that when Wizinsky got to the top of the climb she signaled her belayer to lower her. She then put her weight on the rope. Initially it held her. Wizinsky then heard a “pop” and fell backwards to the ground hitting a boulder outcropping before grounding out. Wizinsky was tied in with a locking carabiner. After the fall, the end of the rope that she had tied into was still at the top of the climb with the carabiner still locked. There was also a carabiner on her harness.
It was determined that the victim had a carabiner clipped to a belt loop on the front of her jeans before the climb. She then put on a harness but did not remove the carabiner from her jeans. There was another carabiner clipped through the loops of her harness. When she attempted to clip into the figure eight knot at the end of the rope, she mistakenly clipped in using the carabiner on her jeans. This meant that her climbing harness was not a part of her safety system. When she leaned back to get a ride down, the belt loop on her jeans was holding her full weight. It ripped off, allowing her to fall to the ground.
This may seem on the surface to have been a very outrageous mistake to have made. In fairness to the victim, there were several other factors which contributed to this accident. Members of the group were observed drinking beer prior to and during the climbs. It should also be noted that it was the victim’s first time rock climbing and she was dependent upon the group leaders to adequately instruct her in the proper use of the climbing safety system. Several times during the day, local climbers had intervened offering assistance to the group when they were observed using improper belay techniques and improperly set belay anchors which resulted in a near accident earlier that day. Finally and most importantly, Wizinsky was a novice when she tied into the rope. No one in her party took the time to check her harness to see that she was safely and correctly tied in. (Source: Michael Hood, Director, Vertical Ventures Rock Climbing).