During the month of June, Julia Chen passed away from injuries sustained during an abseil accident.
This written account is my summation of two individual reports that I was given about Julia’s accident. It should NOT be treated as an official report or to be considered in any way an accurate account of what happened.
Julia was at Paarl Rock to work on a relatively new sport climbing project with a friend (the route was unopened).
Julia opted to put up a top rope on the project that she was working. The norm for putting up a rope on a project is to go ground up, however I do not know the circumstances/condition of the route and assume that she following best practice given the circumstances.
Events that led up to the accident:
– Julia and partner had scrambled up the side, approximately 60 meters off the deck to a set of abseil anchors.
– They secured a single rope to the abseil anchors (that is to say that there was one single rope reaching the ground). A knot in the end of the rope would have made no difference to any outcomes (the rope touched the ground). Diameter of the rope used is unknown to me.
The thinner the rope, the less friction caused and therefore (potentially) more difficult to control (vs a thicker rope, giving more friction).
– Julia threaded the single rope into a bug (belay/abseil) device (the exact type of device is unknown to me).
– Julia then proceeded to abseil down +- 30 meters, at which point she needed to swing over a couple of meters to the one side in order to reach the top anchors of her project.
– The partner above no longer had eyes on Julia, but was watching the rope slide across as Julia moved/swung across toward the top anchors of the project route.
– Shortly there after, the rope suddenly skidded across the rock to its centre/vertical position (i.e. directly below the top anchors above her).
– The rope remained taught and then went slightly slack (i.e. not fully weighted).
– The partner tried to communicate to Julia by voice, but did not get any response.
– The partner then scrambled back down to the base where he found Julia. Upon examination the partner observed that Julia had sustained a head injury/injuries and her hands had rope burns on them.
– The pair then walked out to the car and proceded to a hospital.
– Julia died the following day at the hospital. My assumption is that she passed on from injuries that she sustained to her head).
Guessing game of what happened:
– Julia had abseiled down from the top approximately 30 meters (half way down the rope – assuming the rope was 60 meters and touched the ground).
– She then swung across to the anchors of the top of our route/project.
At this point many different scenarios can contemplated:
– At some point she lost control of her abseil. She could have removed her hand(s) from the rope (perhaps to grab onto the top anchors of the project or onto a grip or vegetation!?) or perhaps she lost her balance.
– She was then pulled back to the centre ‘drop line’ of the rope (i.e. above the ropes anchors).
– From the burns on her hands, she obviously tried to regain control of her descent and may have even have slowed herself down. It is not known if she grabbed above or below the bug (or both).
– With no or very little control of her descent, she would have almost free fell to the ground.
– Did she sustain head injuries at the top (after the swing at the 2nd set of abseil anchors during the swing back to centre), or when she came into contact with the base (or perhaps both!?)? In my opinion, she would have knocked her head upon impact at the bottom.
– More friction on the rope. Two ropes threaded through the abseil device would have made it much more easy for Julia to have regained control of her descent (due to the two ropes creating more friction and causing a slower rate of descent through the abseil device). Thicker ropes would also have made created more friction.
– A Prusik/Prussic knot, shunt or any other recommended method to safe guard an abseil. Any of these would most likely have prevented her fast and (ultimately) fatal descent.
– A helmet. A helmet would certainly have taken the brunt of any impact and possibly have saved her.
It’s been somewhat conflicting for me to write about someones demise and critic it. Less someone you knew, liked and respected. It is my opinion that Julia would want others to learn from her what happened to her.
Julia, we will miss you and remember you.