Every accident you hear about is bad and hits close to the mark. There is an inherent risk to the work we do, which can be managed but never completely mitigated away.
One of the things that happens after an incident or an accident is that a process takes place which aims to make sense of what happened, to establish what the mechanism of the accident was, how the incident could have been prevented or avoided. Or to identify what measures need to be put in place in the future in order to ensure that this mechanism cannot reoccur.
Often times a fairly clear chain of events can be established that led to a system failure.
Other times, things are less clear, the picture muddied by lack of clarity.
I came across a case like this a couple of weeks ago when looking at a harness that had been used by a young climber when he sustained a significant fall from about 10 meters, resulting in serious injuries which led to a lengthy hospitalisation and rehab process. Upsettingly, after his accident all fingers were pointed at him as having been to blame for what happened, claiming that he himself had cut the webbing bridge on his harness.
However, if you look closely at the images below, you can see that the cut in the webbing is a clean one, seemingly made by a non-serrated blade, slicing clean through most of the fibre. What you cannot see so well in the photos is that the cut must have been covered by the black shrink-wrap material, as when it is not under load this covers the cut – it is only when loaded that the cut is flush with the top and visible.
This one has me totally stymied, none of the obvious suspects explanation how such damage could have occurred to the webbing, there are no burrs or sharp edges visible on the shackle that the webbing bridge is anchored to, the end of the thread is located in the shackle’s body – other than that I do not really see what could have led to the failure of the bridge. So the conclusion would seem to be, rather worryingly, that somebody maliciously cut the climber’s webbing bridge and that he had used the harness unaware of this – until the moment the bridge failed.
This conclusion is deductive, the proof being highly circumstantial: all other explanations have been eliminated, leaving only this one. Having said that though, the true reason may of course be something different again which is simply not apparent.
I found this quite upsetting and struggle to get my head around someone deliberately doing this kind of damage and walking away from it, that would be extremely cold and callous. The harness was a show-room model which the climber had bought at a discounted price, so that may be when the damage occurred. Fact is that we shall never know, as the inquest is closed and the climber luckily got to walk away from the accident (by no means a given after a fall from that kind of height!). We are left with a cut webbing bridge and no satisfactory explanation.
The take-away message from all this? Expect the unexpected, I suppose. And that there are some pretty warped people out there.