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Texas A&M bonfire collapse blamed on structural, organizational problems

logs
Twelve people were killed and 27 others were hurt after thousands of logs collapsed on November 18, 1999  

Student drinking, fatigue not factors, report says

May 2, 2000
Web posted at: 7:16 p.m. EDT (2316 GMT)


In this story:

Too much stress on logs

Structure built 'without adequate ... control'

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Last November's collapse of a stack of bonfire logs at Texas A&M was due to several physical and organizational factors, but there is no evidence that student drinking or fatigue played a role in the accident that killed 12 people and injured 27 others, according to a report released Tuesday.

The logs were to be burned for what's billed as the "world's largest bonfire," an event that draws thousands to the College Station campus on the eve of A&M's annual football game against its archrival, the University of Texas. The bonfire has been a 90-year tradition at the school.

  RESOURCES
 

"Structurally, the collapse was driven by a containment failure in the first stack of logs," according to Leo Linbeck Jr., chairman of the five-member commission that investigated the accident.

The stack of 5,000 logs was 59 feet tall when it collapsed November 18, 1999. That's 4 feet higher than the university allows.

Too much stress on logs

Linbeck said two primary factors caused the failure:

1. Excessive internal stresses caused by aggressive wedging of the second stack of logs into the first stack.

2. Inadequate containment strength. The wiring used to tie the logs together provided insufficient binding strength. Also, steel cables that in recent years had been wrapped around the first stack of logs were not used in 1999.

Linbeck said the commission ruled out several factors that had been considered as possible contributing factors for the collapse:

  • The bonfire's center pole. Linbeck said the "center pole, which was of high quality, had very little to do with the structural strength" of the stack. The center pole "did not contribute to the collapse."

  • A crane that hit a cross-tie. The committee verified that the crane hit the stack of logs, but Linbeck said it "could not have generated enough force to materially weaken the structure or contribute to the collapse."

  • Soil under the logs, ropes used to secure the logs and other equipment. Linbeck said all were tested. "None of them played a role in the collapse," he said.

Structure built 'without adequate ... control'

Linbeck said the panel found that "organizational failure" contributed to the bonfire accident. He said the failure had its roots in decisions made by university officials and students over many years that "created an environment in which a complex and dangerous structure was allowed to be built without adequate physical or engineering control."

Linbeck said there was evidence of drinking, horseplay and other irresponsible behavior by students but that those activities did not play a role in the collapse.

Authorities are still weighing whether the bonfire tradition, which dates back to 1909, will resume.



RELATED STORIES:
2 killed in Texas A&M log collapse were drunk
December 04, 1999
Texas A&M honors victims of tragedy
November 25, 1999
Texas schools curb football rivalry to mourn log collapse victims
November 23, 1999
Log collapse probe taking shape
November 22, 1999
Texas A&M prepares for more funerals for bonfire victims
November 21, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Texas A&M University
  • 1999 Aggie Bonfire
  • The Battalion - Texas A&M University's News Source
Occupational Safety & Health Administration
The University of Texas at Austin
City of College Station


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