Suspension accidents

Posted on Tue, 26 November 2013


I have become aware of two suspension related incidents recently, one where the model ended up hitting the floor and the other was within a hair's-breadth of the same fate. As I have no desire to name names, it will suffice to say that both were highly respected performance riggers. I have removed all names as they are irrelevant. The main point being that not even experts are immune from accidents. In both cases, it appears that the fastening on the main suspension line failed and the immutable laws of gravity took over. I say appears, as in the first case I can only rely on what others have said and, in the second, whilst I have reviewed the video many times, it is unclear, due to shadow, how the suspension line was fastened.

The important lesson is how to minimise this risk. In the first case, the models feels cause was the loosening of "a slipknot on my sole load bearing suspension line, causing me to fall out of suspension onto the bare concrete floor.". Of course, one must consider that in, what I understand to be, a face down suspension, it would be unlikely that the model would have been able to see this. Thus, it could be conjecture or what she was told. Of course, there are 'slip-knots' and 'slip-knots'. There are secured ones which are quite safe for main lines and those that are every easy to release accidentally. However, one observer, who is a performance rigger of considerable experience, commented thus: "I saw the knot in question and actually commented to both X and Y that the knot on the main line was absolutely inadequate as it had been tied. The main line was rigged from the rear of the chest harness up through an eye in the rig, back down to the body and then back to towards the rig. The line was too short so was pulled to the side of another drop line. No frictions had been tied in the sequence so the full load was on the final knot. A single half hitch was tied in this line.

Admittedly, this is an eye witness account but studies show these can be notoriously unreliable. However, the fact that he was moved to comment upon it in and describes it in such suggests it was studied, rather than casual, observation. As things stand, we have no corroboration of either version or any precise details from the rigger. I think all we need to know is that the attachment on the main line seemed to have failed.

In the second incident, as far as I can tell from slo-mo video, the tie securing the main line to a hip harness became accidentally loosened or failed. It is impossible to see as the upper part where the lines meet the karabiners was in shadow. This what I believe happened: The model was face-up with a main line to a hip harness and one to each thigh. The rigger tried to release the quick releases to the lines to her thighs but only one leg released, along with the tie on the main line. I do not know how the main line was secured, it is possible that it was also a slip-knot and was either confused with the leg release or caught up with it. However it was secured, the main rope slipped and was only arrested when the end knots jammed in the bight. The model came within a hair's breadth of landing head first, arrested by one leg and the main rope jammed on the hip harness's bight. The rigger acted quickly, grabbing the main line and lowering her safely to finish the show without further drama.

In the light of the above cases, I think there are very good reasons to a) use a secure, non-quick release tie on your main line or any where failure might be catastrophic. This is undoubtedly the most important thing to remember b) not to 'burn the bight' c) use knots as opposed to whipping to finish your ropes. Admittedly, I have not (yet) heard of an accident related to b) and c) is hardly something one would want to rely on but it that case it could have saved a broken neck. Finally, never under-estimate how easy it is to start undoing the wrong line, especially under show/club conditions: bad light, stress, distractions etc.

Although only related to the first two because it was a suspension related 'face-plant', this incident is worth mentioning. Ironically, during a suspension course, the model collapsed or fell as the main line was removed, after the suspension, whilst she was still bound. Of course, a bound person can't use their arms recover their balance or protect themselves so there is a heightened risk of injury. One should always be aware that after a suspension, it is highly likely that your rope bunny is will be a bit unstable and woozy, especially if you have done your job right. I have had them frequently carry on down as you lower the suspension line as their legs have turned to jelly. As the tension on the line comes off, you need to be prepared to take their weigh or, if they are supporting themselves, be aware of how precarious they might be. If you are not actually holding them or the line, at the very least, you need to be alert and be ready to intervene if they look like they might be keeling over. In public situations, one should also keep an eye out for people accidentally barging into you or your model and knocking you over like skittles.

Sadly, I think we will hear of more accidents as more and more people rush towards suspension before they are ready. Don't run before you can walk! You are only safe(r) because you take care, not because you lead a charmed life, have 'always got away with it' or because Rope Gods can make no mistakes. All these incidents are a case of "There but for the grace of God go I"; even if you are an expert, never get complacent and remember "Gravity: It's the law", it will always win.