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Fall on Rock, Severed Rope, Placed No or Inadequate Protection, No Hard Hat, West Virginia, Seneca Rocks, La Bella Vista

FALL ON ROCK, SEVERED ROPE, PLACED NO OR INADEQUATE PROTECTION, NO HARD HAT

West Virginia, Seneca Rocks, La Bella Vista

On the morning of July 11, Ian Shevill (42) and his partner Brian (20’s) were climbing La Bella Vista, a two-pitch 5.10a trad climb, on the East Face of South Peak when he fell to his death. Matthew Lombardi, an Instructor and Guide for the Seneca Rocks Climbing School (SRCS), was witness to the accident and recounts:

Around 10:00 a.m., I was climbing with clients near Ye Gods and Little Fishes and noticed a climbing party of two on La Bella Vista. After some time I heard a grunt, then a bang. I looked over to the climbers on La Bella Vista to see a man falling out of the Skyline Chimney, hitting several ledges as he fell into the trees below.

I noticed a severed climbing rope attached to his harness. I grabbed my radio and called another guide in town and asked him to call 911. I then lowered my client so I could offer assistance to Ian. At the same time, climbers from either side of The Fin who heard the fall were below checking Ian for a pulse. Another guide who was nearby and witnessed the fall was able to tandem-rappel with his client and respond.

Since others had responded to Ian before I could, I gave more information over the radio. I also made contact with Brian. He was okay but shaken up. I told him that others were helping Ian and that he needed to keep himself safe. He managed to rappel to the ground.

Climbers, including two nurses, worked on Ian and after a time realized there was nothing else they could do for him given the severity of the fall and his injuries. (Source: Matthew Lombardi)

Analysis

From what I could tell, Ian was approximately ten feet above his first piece of protection (a #2 Camalot) when he fell, suggesting that the rope severed somewhere between him and his last piece. Somehow his brand-new 60m, 9.4mm rope got caught in a notch and due to the dynamics of the fall, pulled the rope apart. As the belayer, Brian felt almost no “pull” in the fall. The idea of a factor-2 fall with the rope caught in a notch is the best explanation we (climbers and others on the scene) can come up with. Upon inspection, the rope sheath on the cut rope didn’t look like it was cut. Instead, it looked as though it was pulled apart.

A 9.4mm rope is a relatively skinny rope for trad climbing at Seneca. Climbers are reminded to watch for sharp edges and any other rock features that could compromise the rope in the event of a fall. Full-length runners and additional protection can help in rope management. Using additional protection may have prevented the rope from getting caught in the notch. A larger diameter rope or double rope technique should also be considered.

Although he was not wearing a helmet, I don’t think it would have helped him. One final note, the climbing community came together in an extremely helpful and compassionate way to help a fellow climber. (Source: Matthew Lombardi and a posting by James Curry)