FALL ON ROCK, FAILURE OF RAPPEL—KNOT CAME UNDONE,
NO HARD HAT
West Virginia, Seneca Rocks
On October 12, 1994, Imtiaz Lalvi (32) and David Lue-Chee-Lip (26) had just finished climbing Candy Corner to Skyline Traverse. When they arrived at Lower Broadway Ledge, David said they thought they had about one hour of daylight left, so they would explore the east face for future climbs. They found a rap station that consisted of four slings around a tree without rap rings. After deciding to go back to the rap station they found, Imtiaz climbed down six to eight feet to the slings around the tree. David said that when he is tired he gets nervous, so he anchored himself to a different tree with a cordalette. Imtiaz put a second cordalette around a tree at the rap anchor for David to get into when he climbed down to the anchor. Imtiaz set up the rappel while David was anchoring in.
David said when Imtiaz dropped the ropes one was tangled and he couldn’t shake it loose. So he rapped down approximately ten to fifteen feet and untangled the rope. As he resumed rapping the knot between the two ropes parted. Imtiaz fell about 60 to 70 feet and landed on a ledge.
David yelled to Imtiaz, but got no response. David then yelled for help, but there was nobody in the area. David was left on Lower Broadway Ledge without a rope, and not knowing the area found his way to Luncheon Ledge where he found two climbers and told them the situation. They got off their climb and went over to the east face and rapped down to Imtiaz as David ran down to the Visitor Center, then to Gendarme Climbing Shop, then to shop owner’s house, where local guides initiated a rescue.
The accident occurred around 1745, and took between 45 minutes to one hour to be started. He was evacuated down to awaiting EMS. The local doctor pronounced him dead. (Source: Darrell Hensley, local guide)
David said he never saw the knot tied by Imtiaz. It is assumed it was tied incorrectly. Checking the ropes at the scene just showed Imtiaz was in a Figure Eight rap device correctly, but the ends of the rope did not reveal any clue to the type of knot Imtiaz tied, as both ropes were completely untied at the scene. David said he had started using a Figure Eight follow through. It is also assumed that there was not any sort of back-up knot tied. Imtiaz might have checked his set up before rapping, but we must assume he did not.
It has been noticed that many climbers are using modified knots for the sake of easy pulling and untying. Many of these knots don’t have back-up knots, as they may make additional potential snags and friction. Rappel anchors, knots, devices, harness, etc., all become a vital chain. If any link fails, it can be catastrophic, as you are usually at the top—coming down—generally much farther than you are willing to fall. (Source: Darrell Hensley, local guide)