Tito Traversa: Report Reveals Cause of Accident

posted by dpm on 07/09/2013

Last week, youth climbing talent Tito Traversa fell from the top of a route in Orpierre, France. After a three day fight for his life, he passed away on July 5. Initial reports stated that the cause of his fall was due to the "improper positioning of the rubber stops," commonly referred to as 'strings' which are used to keep the carabiner from rotating in the dogbone or sling.

There was a lot of speculation over the past week about how this could happen and how, exactly, the strings were positioned on the carabiner. It led me to revisit a climbing fatality that happened at the New River Gorge where the strings were improperly positioned on an open sling which was discussed here.

Click the image for video that demonstrates the improper use, and danger, of using strings on open slings.

Rudy Ruana -father of another talented youth climber, Drew Ruana-  came up with a scenario using the Petzl Ange quickdraws and demonstrated it in a YouTube video for all to be aware of. Though neither my speculation nor Rudy's turned out to be the actual orientation, both represent other potential dangers that strings can present that all climbers should be aware of.

Click the image to show an IMPROPER method of using a string on a quickdraw. 

Today, Grimper presents the first factual information regarding the cause of the accident. They note that the investigation is still ongoing to determine who is at fault, but the investigator chose to release a photo of how the quickdraw and string were positioned; an orientation the led to the tragic fatality of Tito Traversa.

Grimper notes that the actual parts and makes of the quickdraw do not represent those used by Tito but they do state that the model of string used here was the same as the ones used during the accident. As the photo shows, the carabiner is not threaded through the dogbone and is only held there by the rubber band 'string' that is not designed to hold weight. My personal and informal tests, as well as Rudy's, show that most of these rubber pieces will hold 10 to 15 pounds of weight before breaking, just enough to feign security and not break due to rope drag.

This picture provided by Grimper shows the INCORRECT method of positioning the string, carabiner, and dogbone. This is the orientation of the draws used by Tito that led to his fatal accident. 

This is the model of string that was incorrectly used. 

This picture, also by Grimper, shows the proper method of using strings. Though strings are most commonly used on the rope end carabiner, this picture still shows a safe orientation. 

Tito was handed the incorrectly assembled quickdraws by someone (still unclear) in his group. He set off up the route clipping four "good" quicks to the first four bolts and unfortunately using the bad ones for the remainder of the route. It's unclear if he fell during his ascent but seems likely that he reached the top of his 5.10 warmup, clipped the anchor with the faulty draws, and leaned back to be lowered at which point all of the quickdraws broke except for the first four which were too low on the route to do any good.

Tito's accident demonstrates yet another way that 'strings' can be improperly used. Despite a week's worth of speculation, no one in the string of emails that I was involved in suggested this method as a possible cause. Part of the reason for this may be that the style of string used in the accident is not common in the States, at least that I know of. As we've seen in the three methods of improper string usage above, there are plenty of ways to use them improperly and that goes for any kind of keeper whether it's a string, rubber band, hair tie, or even a wrap of climbing tape. This is not to suggest that 'strings' or any type of keeper have no place in climbing. If used properly they can mitigate risk by eliminating the danger of a rotating 'biner becoming cross-loaded across a bolt or rope.

The lesson here seems to be that no matter how many accidents we analyze and how much we learn from them, someone will always find a new way to screw things up. This goes beyond just the use of 'strings' but strikes at the very core of the safety/climbing relationship. It is absolutely essential that climbers have a thorough understanding of how the safety system works and can immediately recognize a dangerous situation, even if it's one that has not yet presented itself.

This ability and understanding come largely from experience, so it seems unfair to suggest that a 12-year-old should have this knowledge. As more youth are introduced to the sport of climbing, this tragedy underlines the importance of proper supervision during the learning phase. But no matter how many safety checks are done on the ground, lead climbing requires decision-making skills that are solely in the hands of the climber. Recognizing a sharp fixed carabiner, bad bolt, or choosing to skip a crux clip can only be done by the lead climber.

If any good is to come from this accident, it may come in reanalyzing the way youth climbers are taught to climb and the level of trust they are allotted at the crag. Please be careful out there and keep an eye on each other, especially the little ones like Tito. 


Update 7/10/14: 

Today, 8a.nu has posted another picture of the quickdraw setup shown by investigators. In this picture, the string is IMPROPERLY affixed to the rope end 'biner which differs from the other photos seen above where the string is on the bolt end 'biner. Some commenters on this story (see below) argued that the picture shown above labeled as "proper method" was still improper. Though I thought the photos above were supposed to represent the exact orientation of the quickdraw, that may not be the case and it remains unclear whether the string was improperly postioned on the rope end or bolt end 'biner. Regardless of which end of the quickdraw the string was improperly affixed to, the result would be the same. 

Another photo released by investigators shows the string IMPROPERLY attached to the rope end 'biner. Photo: 8a.nu