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Carabiner related accident at Pilot Mountain - 9/25/2010
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Sep 26, 2010
Summary: I witnessed an accident involving a friend of mine in the Amphitheater section of Pilot Mountain, NC. He cut his forearm to the bones, from mid-forearm to the palm, on a carabiner during a lead fall.

Quick facts:
  • Climber was leading Arms Control (5.11c, sport) – well within his ability level.
  • Climber led Arms Control the day before with no problem.
  • Climber had led three climbs so far that day (in order): Cow Patty Bingo (5.9, sport), When Shrimp Learn to Whistle (5.11, sport), Mild Mannered Secretary (5.7, sport) (he only led from the last bolt to the anchors to retrieve draws for a climber who had just injured an ankle during a lead fall – the first part was climbed on top rope.)
  • In a change from the previous lead of Arms Control, the climber intended to use longer slings to prepare the route for subsequent top-roping (to minimize damage to his rope from the roof.)

What I saw: The climber was just about to pull the final roof of Arms Control. I was watching him climb extremely closely as I intended to climb the route and wanted to see what he did.

He had a 48” sling on the last bolt he clipped at the roof and a 24” sling combined with a quick draw to extend it on his second-to-last bolt (see picture for where these draws were hung). Because he had already gone past a smaller roof, a lead fall should have put him in the air. I watched him leaning out to grab the jug beyond the big roof. His hand looked a little shaky as he reached out for it, leaning far back from his stance under the roof. I remember thinking “If he’s having trouble reaching for that, I’m really going to be in trouble.” He did fall, and stopped about 8-10 feet below where he started, in mid-air (4 feet of this was due to the sling). It did not look like a bad fall; it looked safe and his belayer caught the fall with no problem.

It was about a full second before he yelled and we saw him looking at his arm, which had been sliced open. I won’t go into the details, as friends and family might read this, but it was a deep and serious injury. We lowered him and called 911 literally within seconds. A first responder, a surgeon in residency, and a doctor were all climbing near by and gave assistance until he was carried out. I can’t tell the story of the rescue with much detail because I left to make sure the rescue personnel could find their way to him. Perhaps someone else can analyze the rescue.

What I figured out: At first we couldn’t figure anything out. Did he pull out of a hand (arm) jam? There really weren’t any up there. Did he hit a rock during his fall? The features below were smooth and sloped and he fell into mid-air. Could he have run his arm over a bolt? The bolts weren’t anywhere near his body during the fall because his arm was way out reaching over a roof.

I had seen a story about a climber becoming impaled on a carabiner at the elbow about a month ago ( In the forum thread about the accident other incidents were mentioned, so it appears to be rare but not unheard of. Because of this, I wondered if catching his arm on the carabiner might have been the cause. It seemed unlikely, since I’d never heard of it happening until I saw the picture a month before, but there was no other equipment or rock near him. I climbed Arms Control up to the point where the long draws were used (his last clipped bolts) to clean as much of his gear for him as I could. I decided to leave the last two slings and carabiners to lower from – we were ready to get out of there! But I did get all the way to them so I could examine them. The quick draw carabiner on the second-to-last clip was clean. The Helium carabiner on the 48” sling had blood and other evidence on it of entering a human. There was no blood above this and actually very little below, for about 15 feet, since he didn’t really start bleeding until he was being lowered. I am certain this carabiner was the one that entered his arm and ripped it from forearm to palm.

I made some diagrams to try and explain the set-up. They are as close to scale as I could make them without going there with a tape measure. For additional pictures of the route see:

I think that there are two possible explanations:
1) The carabiner on the long draw was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. His arm hit it just right.
2) Because there were two long draws near each other in the system, it is possible that they came together during the fall (See figure, bottom left panel). The lower carabiner could have held the Helium carabiner such that it could not move or rotate as easily as is normal. Having it held steady like that could have made it more likely for it to cut his arm. I want to specify that we did not see this happen – the climber’s body was between us and the carabiner and draws during the fall. The draws came close together when I lowered off the climb, but did not touch. Under the strain of a lead fall they might have touched. It is just the only additional explanation I can come up with. Perhaps the same effect of a non-rotating carabiner could also be achieved without them touching, just having the rope running through both at an almost horizontal angle.

What could have been done to prevent this accident: Honestly, I’m not sure anything could have been done. In hindsight a number of actions could have prevented the accident, including not going climbing in the first place. Sure, he could have led it on shorter draws. A scaredy-cat like me would have used a short draw, because I hate falling. But 1) it was a clean looking fall from an overhang, 2) many, many people take longer falls over worse ground as a matter of course, 3) he was climbing below his usual ability level on a familiar climb and trying to plan ahead for how the rope would run for a follower. Having locking carabiners on the rope end of the draws would have prevented the accident. He could have lead it on short draws, fought the rope drag (he mentioned there was some the day before), and then re-clipped long draws on lower for the second, but I do not personally believe this accident was foreseeable enough to take those steps.

It’s possible the two long draws coming together was the cause. Although we’ve all seen it, it’s not always intuitive that the rope end of a draw will move UP when the rope is tensioned or how far or how quickly they can run up the rope during a fall. This changes with terrain, too. This would be a lot of variables to calculate during a lead climb, especially when it requires a change from the plan formulated on the ground pre-climb.

Rock Climbing Photo: Photo of the climb
Photo of the climb

Rock Climbing Photo: Diagrams

The draws are still up there for anyone willing to get them and examine them. The quick draw and Mammut sling belong to the climber, the Bluewater sling and Helium carabiners are mine.
Anne McLaughlin
From Raleigh, North Carolina
Joined Jan 6, 2008
117 points
Sep 26, 2010
Thanks for posting, excellent report, my best to the injured climber. Crisco Jackass
From Grand Junction, CO
Joined May 27, 2008
20 points
Sep 26, 2010

Just want to say having witnessing it as well and as one of the many responders, and thank God for the many amazing responders, your summary is right on target and factual. Thank you for putting this together!

Doris Sanchez
Joined Sep 26, 2010
11 points
Sep 26, 2010
Excellent report! Will Eccleston
Joined Nov 2, 2006
29 points
Sep 26, 2010
I'm going to venture that a loose 48 in sling is unlikely to engage a biner to the extent that it would penetrate skin. Simply too much flexibility. The sling would only come really taught after the climber would pass it's height. I like Anne's second possibility in that there is potential to lock the upper sling down.

I think that another more likely option, without having been there or done the route in question, is that Bennett may have unknowingly latched on to the sling, as opposed to the rope, on the way down. Having climbed with him once i do not know his habits when it comes to falling; however, latching on to a slippery runner would place the biner in close contact. This scenario would potentially leave marks in the palm of the hand that could have been easily overlooked due to the severity of the injury at hand.

Either way, here is to a quick recovery, and thanks to the folks that helped get him out of there.
From Columbia, SC
Joined Dec 20, 2009
309 points
Sep 26, 2010
Wow -- that's really horrifying, Anne! I hope your friend recovers quickly and without lasting damage.

Thanks for the thorough and well-written report. If you learn any new details, I hope you'll share them. A report from the leader's point of view would be welcome too, once he's able/willing to talk about it.

From Decatur, GA
Joined Nov 14, 2006
4,536 points
Sep 26, 2010
Strangely enough, the same model carabiner was involved in the earlier Eldo accident. Larry
From SoAZ
Joined Jan 23, 2006
87 points
Sep 26, 2010
Wow, what a freak accident. I never heard of a biner accident until that same report Anne mentioned about a month ago.

Your Atlanta buddies are pulling for you.
Bob M
From Alpharetta, GA
Joined Oct 6, 2009
50 points
Sep 26, 2010
anne, thanks for that detailed account and for the in-depth photos and diagrams.

the rescue effort was amazing. we were very fortunate not only to be in such a well-traveled place, with easy access, but also that there were so many medical professionals who just happened to be there that day, in the right place and the right time to help out. many thanks go to each of them.

many thanks also to the responders from pilot mtn state park, and the emt/ambulance/other medical personnel who responded to the 911 call, as well as to the many climbers who assisted in carrying a complete stranger up 3 bears gully and out of pilot to the waiting ambulance.
queen jean
Joined Sep 26, 2010
5 points
Sep 26, 2010
I found out about this last night and called as many people as I could to find out what happened. As of this afternoon, this is what I know:

Bennet had arterial bleeding which was life threatening. Among others, a surgeon and a paramedic who were at Pilot when the accident occured were able to stop the bleeding.

It looks like he will keep his arm. He is through one surgery and has many more to go. I'm not really comfortable getting any more detailed but my thoughts are that bennet is lucky that there were trained individuals there to keep him alive. He has a long road ahead, but he is a positive person and will come out on top.

I'll either get my buddy to post here or I'll post myself about Bennet's condition.

We're all with you man.
Ryan Williams
From London (sort of)
Joined May 10, 2009
1,458 points
Sep 26, 2010
Wow, thanks Anne for a heads up report. I have never heard of this happening. Glad he will be alright. Brad "Stonyman" Killough
From Alabama
Joined Jan 18, 2008
5,948 points
Sep 27, 2010
Anne - Thanks for posting details.

Bennett - Heal quick
joe disciullo
From Charlotte, NC
Joined Sep 23, 2009
126 points
Sep 27, 2010

Just to clarify the rescue effort, I will summarized as best as I can remember, I was one of the responders so not obtaining this as an update from someone else.

Bennett's belayer, a surgical resident and a few of us were the first responders. The surgical resident assumed (and thank God she did) the attendee role straight away. His arm was not injured, it was his hand. A very seasoned physician whom we see at Pilot all the time quickly came over and oversaw the surgical resident lead in the rescue effort to manage the bleeding and prevent potential infection. The physician was there and ready to attend as primary if it was needed, but rather allowed the resident to lead the rescue, and she provided Bennett amazing medical care. Together the resident and physician made all the decisions and instructed us what to do during the effort. There were many others with various training who assisted in the effort whether it was calling 911, providing additional first aid material, or provide Bennett comfort and encouragement. Everyone came together and provided Bennett the best overall care he could get outdoors.

The actual injury is whatever part of the beaner caught the anterior portion of the upper part of his forearm (closer to his wrist) caught just enough (and plus the impact of the fall) to rip his skin on up, so the injury is from there up through the hand exposing the interior portion of his hand (skin flapped open exposing tendons and bone). At first site, we could not see any major artery damage, we just saw a number of ripped tendons, but with his bleeding, controlling it was the immediate goal of the surgical resident. Once we laid him down and compressed his hand for a few minutes, the next step was to replace our t-shirts, sweatshirts, etc. As best possible, we secured his skin not to expose anything and the resident applied medicated gauze and dry gauze on top of that to help soak the bleeding, to help fight any potential infection. We then slowly removed the clothing first used to immediately compress his hand and the resident replaced it with medical gauze. At that point once his hand was wrapped up, elevated, he was down to maintain blood pressure and bleeding out, the resident and physician watched him and others stayed there with him to encourage him until the EMT arrived.

When the EMT arrived, it was timely, they gave him fluids and with the help of many of the guys there, they carried him up.

He had a surgery on that day of injury just to contain the bleeding and clean everything up. This was an outdoor injury or dirty wound and they chose to not perform reparative surgery in order to avoid any bacterial infection.

He has another surgery today, myself and a few others will be at the hospital to receive him afterward, which probably will not be a repariative surgery either.

It will not be until he has his series of surgeries and starts therapy that a better prognosis can be made. Right now he just needs to get through this and get home. He needs all the support he can get. As all know, climbing was his life and he had some pretty serious long term goals and his social community, best friends were his climbing buddies. So if you are on his FB or have gotten one of our messages, shower him with cards or thoughts. If not, keep him in your thoughts and prayers.

Regards, Doris
Doris Sanchez
Joined Sep 26, 2010
11 points
Sep 27, 2010 says the roof moves are mixed, did Bennett bring gear to supplement the bolts? Is the gear needed or are there bolts through the roof now after the 1st set of anchors?

From Columbia, SC
Joined Dec 20, 2009
309 points
Sep 27, 2010
Na, the roof isn't mixed there is plenty of bolt protection there...even so, a piece with a long sling would have probably resulted in the same accident. George Heib
Joined Sep 27, 2010
51 points
Sep 27, 2010
George Heib wrote:
Na, the roof isn't mixed there is plenty of bolt protection there...even so, a piece with a long sling would have probably resulted in the same accident.

Not necessarily depending on the placement of the last piece. Regardless, i just wanted more info to clarify the scenario after having looked at the pictures and read the info on RC. This kind of accident just freaks me out.
From Columbia, SC
Joined Dec 20, 2009
309 points
Sep 28, 2010
I've climbed this route-a few times, and I am at an absolute loss as to how this could have happened; that fall should be nothing but air. Pretty freaky. Alexander Blum
From Charlotte, NC
Joined Mar 28, 2009
165 points
Jul 12, 2012
Was he carrying any sharp objects on him? Knives, tools, etc.? You can only narrow it down to a few factors that contacted his arm: rock, rope, protection, and himself. Paul Hutton
From Boise, ID
Joined Mar 26, 2012
855 points
Jul 12, 2012
Zombie thread will eat your face... Adrian Allred
From Tucson, Arizona
Joined Jun 9, 2011
4 points
Jul 12, 2012
Im so high I can't really follow all that. Stu Pidaz
Joined Jan 28, 2011
30 points
Jul 14, 2012
Recent posts have returned this to the active list, so here is an update. Bennett had been afraid that he would never climb again, or not make it back to climbing 5.11 again. On the anniversary weekend, Bennett "sent" the route, as you might have read at, the blog by Erica Lineberry. His re-assessment of the accident accepts the analyses posted here.

Since then, Bennett has progressed to leading the 5.13 there, 'Black and Blue Velvet'.
From Winston-Salem, NC
Joined Feb 9, 2011
57 points

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