In reply to:
Subject: My Dan Osman Rope Failure Analysis
From: Chris Harmston <email@example.com>
Date: Fri, 16 Jul 1999 12:09:11 -0600
I think it is time I spoke up publicly. I have reviewed Dano's rope in
some detail. My findings and theory support those published by Kevin
Worrall in Climbing (No 183, March 1999, Pg 90).
This statement is mine personally and NOT that of Black Diamond Equipment!
This is obvious as you read below.
I am a Materials Engineer with BS degrees in Physics and Materials
Engineering and a ME in Materials Engineering (I nearly finished a PhD but
bailed once I learned I did not enjoy being a scientist any longer). I
know lots about atomic layer semiconductor crystal growth. I have been
the Quality Assurance Manager for Black Diamond Equipment for 6 years. My
primary responsibility is the testing and analysis of climbing equipment,
among other stuff. I have been involved in the ASTM climbing and
mountaineering standards development for the last 4 years. I investigate
all accidents I hear of involving equipment failure, whether they are BD's
or not. I review rec.climbing every day looking specifically for posts
related to accidents, gear, misuses of gear, issues about BD, etc. I, and
others at BD, go out of our way on this news group to publish information
above and beyond what is required by the standards that climbing gear is
designed to (see the recent lame thread on "Gear Safety" which I will not
respond to specifically. See Karl Lew's web site. Search under my name
on dejanews for examples). I do not post to this news group as a general
rule unless I think that posts from various people are specifically wrong
or misleading, as is the current case (in fact I try to avoid posting
because of commercial conflict of interest). I respond to individuals on
this news group constantly and my comments to these people come back into
this group (see the current RP thread on soldering cable fatigue). I
respond in detail to individuals who ask me questions, even when they do
not like what BD is about (see recent Camalot threads and failure analysis
associated with this thread).
Even more irrelevant background:
I have been rock climbing since 1981, and am primarily a trad climber. I
am a risk taker because I climb. Climbing IS dangerous and anyone who
thinks otherwise if fooling themselves. Anyone who climbs is a risk taker
in my opinion. I climb 5.12 on any rock type (that I have been on) and
style (except offwidth, so far) and have onsighted up to 12c/d. I climb
WI6 and possibly harder (ice is either hard or easy to me and is my
primary passion). I climb M8. I establish new rock, ice and mixed
routes ground up with and without bolts. I have no aid or alpine
experience. I weight 190 lbs and take upside-down 40 to 60 footers
without my helmet on. I have nearly killed myself several times due to
falling off 5.8. I am a climber, climbing eventually involves falling,
which may very well kill or maim me. Most people, including myself, would
consider me to be reckless because of how I climb. I climb for my own
reasons and no one else's. I don't care what people think about me in
general. Why Dano jumped off cliffs is his own personal choice that
nobody has a right to argue against, even if he had children in my
opinion. I certainly have no right to judge his reasons for doing what he
did. I respect Dano for pushing the limits way way beyond where they had
been previously. I met Dano twice but did not know him. I know many of
My expertise in the analysis of broken climbing ropes is very limited.
This is due to the fact that climbing ropes very rarely break or cut in
actual use. The only previous experience I have with rope failure
analysis was that of Matt Baxter who died on El Cap several years ago when
his rope was cut by a flake after a carabiner had broken (see dejanews for
more info on this, send a Freedom of Information Request to the NPS-I
recommend you do it for the Dano accident as well and then you can have a
copy of my official report, or look at ANAM). I have also reviewed
several ropes with sheaths shredded due to the open back regular carabiner
gates in minor axis. This lack of experience could indicate that my
findings are incorrect or suspect.
I first became involved in Dano's accident when news of Dano's death
spread across this news group with the associated rumors that the NPS
might have purposely cut his rope. On December 9, 1998 I sent an email to
John Dill (YOSAR director) letting him know of these rumors on this news
group and offered my assistance in the analysis of Dano's equipment. John
responded back that Yosemite Law Enforcement (YLE) was investigating the
accident and that they had to finish their investigation before I might be
able to see the ropes (they too knew of the rumors of murder and were
investigating this as well I suspect). As you all should know Dan's ropes
stayed on the wall for over a month and YLE was unable to recover them.
Given the rumors of tampering by the NPS a climber took matters into his
own hands. He recovered the ropes and sent them directly to BD. As soon
as I received the ropes I contacted YLE because I was in possession of
stolen federal evidence from an active investigation. I was told to
return the ropes immediately and reveal the name of the person who sent me
the ropes. While on the phone with the lead investigator another phone
call came into BD from "someone within YLE" stating that the FBI would be
at BD to arrest me if I did not send the ropes back the next day. I was
freaking out to say the least. Meanwhile I looked at the rope in some
detail. It was melted through. It looked as if there were the
possibility that someone had hot cut the rope. When I called YLE back and
told them this they wanted me to conduct my full investigation and allowed
me to keep the rope for two weeks. No FBI showed up to haul me away.
I only saw the one section of rope that was cut down and contained the
failure point. I did not see the rigging, retrieval rope, or the section
that was attached to Dan directly.
Everything I did was visual examination. I did not untie any knot or
tamper with the rope in any way other than prying the knots to see inside.
With some insight from Doug Heinrich I concluded that the failure of Dan's
rope was not due to tensile overload or from being tampered with. I
strongly believe that Dan did miscalculate on his last jump. For some
reason he moved his jump site. In doing so he crossed the ropes (either
on the retrieval line or on the main jump line). When he jumped the first
knot above the one he was tied in with slid down a section of rope several
lengths up. The sheath was heavily melted and removed in several sections
on this upper part of the rope. The knot that slid down the rope was
melted in multiple locations and was melted nearly completely through,
deep inside the knot. This knot was not tight, yet others in the system
were (this is the one open question that is unresolved as far as I know).
It is my conclusion that Dan's rope was cut by his own rope sliding
against itself. Use of a magnifying glass indicated to me that the cut
surface was due to sliding action in one direction. There was no evidence
of hot cutting with a knife or other type of instrument. I conducted
further experiments in my lab to see if tensile overload could have caused
this failure. The samples I tested were significantly different in that
they were heavily frayed and tattered. My analysis of Dan's ropes in
general was that they were in great condition. There was no evidence to
me of damage due to previous falls, uv exposure, or weather. I would have
climbed on these ropes without any hesitation had they not been from this
accident. I do not believe that the condition of the ropes had anything
at all to do with the failure of the ropes. Nor do I believe that Dan's
basic shock absorbing setup was incorrect. Crossing the ropes was the
I was asked by YLE not to make my findings public until they had finished
their criminal investigation. They forced me to tell them who sent me the
rope and they pressed charges against this individual (I will have to live
with the fact that I was unable to keep this information confidential). I
still have not heard back from YLE about closure of this accident and
decided to make my findings public now due to the vast numbers of
misinformed posts relative to this subject. Maybe my analysis will stop
some of the useless bickering many of you are currently engaged in.
What is to be learned from this accident? NEVER LET NYLON SLIDE AGAINST
NYLON! You should already know this.
I also know that Dano's rigging setup was reviewed by more than a couple
of technically competent people. I also know that he tested it multiple
times. I personally do not think that what Dan was doing (when done
properly as he had done on earlier jumps) was any more dangerous than
modern ice climbers doing hard thin ice routes (like in Maple Canyon and
elsewhere), in fact his setup was most likely safer in my personal
opinion. Dan's death was a tragedy and an accident.
Again, this summary is mine personally and not that of Black Diamond.
Chris Harmston (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Quality Assurance Manager. Materials Engineer BS, ME.
Black Diamond Equipment Ltd.
2084 East 3900 South, SLC, UT 84124 phone: 801-278-5552
DISCLAIMER: Unless otherwise indicated, this correspondence is personal
opinion and NOT an official statement of Black Diamond Equipment Ltd.