Friday, January 31, 2014

Accident Report

Forest Supervisor                                                         
Inyo National Forest
873 N. Main Street
Bishop, California  93515

Thomas Locker
Casa Vieja Guard Station
Inyo National Forest

August 9, 1979

Dear Sir,

I am writing in response to your request for additional information in Block 13 of the CA-1 (Federal Employee’s Notice of Traumatic Injury and Claim for Continuation of Pay/Compensation).  I put “bad decisions” as the cause of my accident. You asked for a fuller explanation and I trust the following details will be sufficient.

On the day of the accident, I was providing logistic support to an Environmental Analysis Team analyzing options for cheatgrass reduction in the Red Rock Creek drainage near Jordan Hot Springs.  My assignment was to pack the Team’s supplies and equipment on a mule string.

We arrived at Jordan at about 1500 hours.  My assistant packer, Bill Schofield, and several members of the Team unsaddled the horses and removed the mules’ packs.  We hobbled the animals for the night.  As we planned to continue on to Redrock Meadows the next morning we only took that evening’s supplies from the packs.  After cooking dinner and finishing cleanup, since there had been reports of considerable bear activity in the vicinity, Packer Schofield climbed a nearby tree and looped a rope over a branch.  We hoisted the packs, which contained surveying and scientific equipment as well as food, about 50 feet above the ground.

After this the rest of the party went down to the hot springs.  I remained in camp by myself.  I had planned to finish a book I had brought along.  Unfortunately I had forgotten to take it out of the pack before hoisting.  I knew that the total weight of the packs we had hoisted up was about 400 lbs. and that I could not lower and raise them by myself.  I decided to use one of the mules.

After refastening the hoisting rope with a slip knot, I scooped a few oats into my hand and went towards the pasture.  “Vudu” was the closest mule and I quickly enticed her with reach.  This was probably not the wisest choice as Vudu can often be skittish.

After untying the hobbles, I wrapped the bitter end of the hoisting rope around her chest, tying a loop just behind the forelegs.  I then pulled the slipknot loose.  The packs dropped about two or three feet, taking the slack out of the rope.  The sudden tug and the rattling of cans and equipment spooked Vudu.

She began to run, kicking and bucking until the packs snagged against their supporting branch.  At this point I would say that the mule panicked.  The bucking became extremely violent and the loop I’d tied around her chest slipped back to her belly and rear legs.  The next couple of kicks freed her from the rope and the packs began to fall.

Knowing the value of some of the equipment in the packs, I grabbed the rapidly moving rope, in the process tangling my left foot in the line.

I weigh about 150 lbs, the packs about 400 lbs.  When I realized that I would not be able to stop the packs, I released the rope.   Imagine my surprise at being jerked off the ground by the tangles around my leg.

Needless to say, I proceeded at a rapid rate up towards the supporting branch.  At about 25 feet, I met the packs, which were now proceeding downward at an equally impressive speed. This explains the broken right ankle.  Slowed only slightly by this impact, I continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the packs hit the ground, leaving me hanging momentarily by my right leg approximately 45 feet in the air.

Unfortunately, when the packs hit the ground, the cord tying them together snapped, freeing all the packs save one.  Now devoid of the weight of most of the packs, only approximately 50 lbs. remained at the other end of the rope. As my weight was now greater, I began a rapid descent back towards the ground.

In about 25 feet, I encountered the remaining pack on its upward journey. This accounts for the broken tooth, several lacerations of my arms and upper body and the partially detached ear.

Here my luck changed slightly. The encounter with the attached pack seemed to slow me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell into the pile of packs and suffered only three cracked vertebrae.

I am sorry to report, however, that as I lay there on the pile of packs, in pain, barely able to move, I lost my composure and presence of mind.  I untangled the rope from around my now-broken ankle and lay there watching the pack begin its journey back down upon me. This explains the fractured skull, minor abrasions and the broken collar bone.

I hope this explanation adequately answers your inquiry.


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  1. OMG! Too funny, but you poor guy.

  2. Are you sure this is true? Geez, I know the potential for crazy accidents with packstock or horses is pretty high but this one is unbelievable!