Petzl Pro-traxion failure/death

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Petzl Pro-traxion failure/death

Postby Dodrill » Mon Mar 16, 2009 8:06 am

On October 17, 2008, James Welton fell to his death while climbing the Touchstone route in Zion National Park. The National Park Service subsequently conducted an investigation into the cause of the accident in cooperation with the Washington County Sherriff’s office. Their findings have been released. The three-person climbing party had climbed three pitches (approximately 180 feet) without significant event.

When the member leading the fourth pitch had reached the pitch’s top anchor, he tied the end of a rope into it. The climbing party’s gear, weighing 104 pounds, was attached to the bottom end of this rope, which was to be used as a haul line. The climbing partner then ran the haul line, which was also Welton’s ascending line, through a Petzl Pro-traxion device, a pulley which incorporates a cam allowing for rope capture as rope is hauled in.

The climbing partner pulled 15 feet of slack through the Pro-traxion prior to Welton starting his ascent. The group planned to haul the gear to the top of the fourth pitch after Welton, the second climber, had completed his ascent. The third party member planned to ascend a second rope, the leader’s lead climbing rope. Welton’s fall occurred when the Pro-traxion failed soon after he started to ascend the haul line. The Pro-traxion operates with a cam and pulley mounted to a fixed plate. A sliding plate allows a rope to be inserted into the device. When the sliding plate is properly closed, a button locks the device together.

NPS investigators were able to reproduce the failure of the Pro-traxion during informal tests when the device was closed improperly. They noted that the device could appear to be properly closed (but not truly closed) if the device was weighted prior to the side plate sliding into place. When improperly closed, the device can deform when weighted, causing rope to move rapidly past the cam in the unintended direction. When the Pro-traxion failed, the 15 feet of slack ran rapidly through the device, causing Welton to fall this distance while still attached to the rope by his mechanical ascenders. The force generated by the fall transferred to Welton’s ascenders, which severed the rope, resulting in Welton’s tragic fatal fall. [Submitted by Ray O’Neil, Plateau District Ranger]

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