Cause of Texas A&M log collapse unknown; 11 students killed
November 19, 1999
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (CNN) -- The search ended early Friday for victims buried beneath a giant log structure that collapsed a day earlier, killing at least 11 students, as it was being assembled for a bonfire at Texas A&M University. School officials, students and investigators looked Friday for a reason behind the tragedy.
Of the 28 students injured, 12 remained hospitalized on Friday morning, with five in critical condition, the school said.
The last two bodies buried in the rubble were recovered around 2:15 a.m. Friday -- nearly 24 hours after the 40-foot log pyramid collapsed.
Witnesses and some survivors said they heard the center pole -- the structure's key component -- crack, perhaps under the crush of tons of timber.
The Texas A&M student newspaper, The Battalion, reported that witnesses said a crane involved in lifting logs to build the pyramid may have hit the bonfire stack too hard, causing the logs to collapse.
But faculty adviser Rusty Thompson said students told him there was no hint of a problem. "That seems to be a rumor that's going around and is purely speculation right now. I don't believe that a crane hit the stack," Thompson told CNN Friday.
He estimated that about 70 students were on the log pyramid when it gave way.
The large structure is built over several weeks with multiple stacks of full-size logs put in place by cranes, tractors and students. The structure -- which resembles a tiered wedding cake -- is designed to twist inward and collapse on itself as it burns.
The center pole consists of two long telephone poles spliced together end to end and buried 15 feet deep on one end. It's held in place by guy wires.
Although the project is run by students, engineers and nonstudent adults are always at the site.
As the cleanup operation continued into the early morning Friday, about a dozen students gathered in a prayer chain, their singing of hymns the only sound aside from cranes working to pick the logs from the stack.
Former President George Bush, whose presidential library is at Texas A&M, was among thousands who attended a 40-minute memorial service Thursday night at the campus of 43,000, some 90 miles northwest of Houston.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M president Ray Bowen canceled this year's bonfire and said a decision will be made later whether to continue the tradition. It's only the second time in 90 years that the bonfire was canceled, the other time was in 1963, after President Kennedy was assassinated.
The bonfire, meant to get students worked up about the upcoming football game against archrival University of Texas, attracts tens of thousands of spectators. This year's bonfire was to have been lit on Thanksgiving, the night before the game.
Correspondent Charles Zewe contributed to this report.
Two Texas A&M students missing after massive log pile collapse
Texas A&M University
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