Note: This is posted with the explicit consent of pyrataxia and with the permission of the board of directors of the space in which the incident occurred. Any names used are with the explicit consent and/or request of the named parties. I have written an in-depth report of the incident for the space, but I also wanted to share this information publicly as well.
At an event on New Year’s Eve, I was part of an incident in which a rig fell over mid-scene. I felt it was important to share what happened publicly for several reasons: first, because there were so many people present at the event, and I wanted to share what happened so that people could have a first-hand account and not be dependent on hearsay. Second, I do not believe this was a result of poor equipment management or safety practices on the part of the space, and I wanted to take this opportunity to state that publicly. And third, because an incident occurred and I believe in both transparency and accountability, part of the way that I can do both of those things is share (with consent of the parties involved) my perspective in what happened and how I am seeking to make amends for harm caused.
I was at an event at a space that I had not been to before. Part of their equipment included several pagoda-style rigs: two sides angled up from the ground to a square box, and three beams across the center of the box running parallel to the sides. The effect was a four-legged rig with the capacity to tie to the sides (there were slats running perpendicular between the legs on each side) with an open front and back. I was not familiar with these rigs, and they are smaller than the A-frames and drop points I am used to tying on. I was about to begin a rope scene with pyrataxia, who is an ongoing play partner and someone I have a relationship with outside of rope.
Prior to the scene beginning, I climbed up and held on to the top center beam of the rig, shifting my weight and “jumping” up and down with my arms to see how the rig responded to dynamic movement. The rig had some give, but felt stable and I felt comfortable proceeding with tying on that rig.
I set my point up on the center beam, in the middle of the beam so that my ring hung down in the center of the rig. We began to tie, and the scene proceeded well. I eventually transitioned pyrataxia to a full inversion where one leg was supported in a futomomo off the ring, and the other other leg was supported by an ankle cuff tied directly to one of the upper beams of the rig (something I do often with her specifically because of her height). I was reaching a point where I was beginning to transition into coming down, and decided to lift her into a facedown position from an upline connected to the back of her chest harness. I pulled the rope through the ring, through the hangar, and back through the ring, then stepped back to do a drop lift to pull her torso up quickly.
I did the lift and she was in a facedown position, but as I was holding the upline, I noticed that the rig was wobbling and froze. The rig then teetered and began to fall forward (toward me). I positioned myself under pyrataxia and yelled. Several people immediately came over and caught the rig (I am unsure if it actually hit the ground before they caught it). Deborah Rose unhooked the ring and removed the upline that connected pyrataxia’s ankle to the rig, and put the rig back upright. I focused on assessing pyrataxia and removing the rope from her; Deb quickly ended her scene and she and her bottom also came to help.
Pyrataxia is physically fine and did not sustain injury as a result of this incident. Several years ago, she sustained a head injury, and risk of her reconcussing is high if she hits her head, so the first priority was assessing her physical state. She communicated that she did not hit her head several times, and initially chose not to be evaluated by a medical professional. After several minutes, however, she consented to have a brief neurological assessment by someone present at the party who is a licensed RN and is aware of her preexisting conditions. The physical assessment was consistent with her self-reporting; she did not appear to hit her head.
The emotional and psychological impact is something that we are working through processing together, and I am actively seeking to do whatever I can to support her through this, and to be accountable for what happened.
Upon examining the rig later, I realized that, by stepping out from under the rig to do the final lift, I created forward motion that pulled the webbing (and thus, the ring as well as pyrataxia) toward the front of the rig. The forward momentum caused the rig to become unstable, and with the weight at the front of the rig, it ultimately fell. As the rigger involved in this scene, I take full responsibility for what happened.
I believe that I attempted to assess the safety of the rig prior to using it (through swinging and jumping on it to assess its response to dynamic movement). I did not take into account that the webbing was capable of sliding, or that the sliding movement would be forward, instead of lateral (slide on an A-frame is side-to-side, perpendicular to the legs and therefore doesn’t cause this kind of instability with weight shift). This was not the first droplift I had done in this scene, but the first that I had done from the front of the rig, and by stepping out in the direction that I did, it caused the ring to shift to the front and destabalize the rig.
I believe that I assessed the risks to the best of my understanding, and attempted to modify aspects of how I tie to accommodate the space. I did not adequately assess those risks, and as a result, this incident occurred. I do not believe this was a result of equipment failure or poor equipment management on the part of the space or event hosts. I believe that I was working with a piece of equipment with which I am unfamiliar, and there are aspects to tying on that type of rig that I did not take into account or consideration.
I believe that there are things that could be done to modify that equipment: a crossbeam that runs perpendicular to the three beams across the top would anchor the webbing in to prevent slide, or some alternate solution. I think it’s important to share this information so that other riggers who are not familiar with this style of rig can assess the risks of the equipment more fully, and change or adapt their tying style to mitigate this risk. Sharing these things in no way is seeking to put blame on others or on the equipment; I take full responsibility for what happened. Sharing these things is solely with the goals of (a) public accountability; (b) risk assessment for other riggers who might find themselves on this type of rig; and (c) feedback for others who might have this style of rig and possible solutions to mitigate the risks.
I believe that I caused this incident to happen. I believe this incident could happen to other riggers who tie in dynamic ways if they have not taken into account parallel slide and weight shift on this specific type of rig. I believe that these rigs are reasonably safe to use if the rigger is able to adequately assess the risks of this equipment and adjust accordingly (I say “reasonably safe” in the sense that nothing we do is truly “safe.”)
I do take full responsibility for this incident. I am working with the space to repair harm caused, and I am seeking to listen and support pyrataxia in her needs for healing moving forward. Part of my accountability is sharing this information and answering questions about the incident to the best of my ability. I will continue to do these things and integrate this information in my assessment of future hard points prior to tying.
Edit: this image of the rig in question was located, for those having trouble picturing this particular setup.