College Station, TX Bonfire Disaster, Nov 1999
TEXAS A & M MOURNS DEATHS OF STUDENTS KILLED WHILE BUILDING ANNUAL BONFIRE.
College Station, Texas (AP) -- A towering 40-foot pyramid of logs erected for Texas A & M's traditional football bonfire trembled and then came roaring down early Thursday crushing at least 11 students to death and injuring 28 others.
After an hours-long, campus-wide sweep, at least five students were still unaccounted for. At least three of the injured were in critical condition and a wave of grief settled over the campus of 43,000, some 90 miles northwest of Houston.
Rescuers used sensitive sound detection equipment to liten for moaning or tapping from the enormous pile of collapsed logs and heard scratching noises that led them to believe there were victims trapped.
"We take it one log at a time," said Kem Bennett, director of a state rescue unit. "They're wired three together in stacks, so we have to cut the wire and move them one at a time. So it's a lengthy process."
Shocked students gathered at the scene, holding hands and praying while the rescue went on. Workers tapped on logs and ordered spectators to be still so they could hear if anyone was still alive. Officials had no explanation for the collapse and said engineers would examine the site.
Sixty to 70 students were on top of the logs trying to build up the stack up when it suddenly gave way university officials said.
Faculty adviser Rusty Thompson said students told him there was no hint of a problem until there was "noise and chaos."
"There was just a sudden nmovement," he said. "Five to seven seconds and it was on the ground."
University president Ray Bowen said six students were killed. Bennett said he saw at least three more bodies in the wood pile.
"I've never seen anthing like this," said student Patrick Freshwater, who was helping clear away the logs. "It's something you don't ever want to feel. I went to my class and there was nobody there. The teacher wasn't even there because no one can go to clas when this is going on."
The bonfire, meant to get students fired up for the football game against archrival Texas, is a beloved tradition at Texas A & M and attracts tens of thousands of spectators.
Since the tradition began in 1909, when the school was still an all-male millitary academy the bonfire has been canceled only one other time,in 1963, after President Kennedy's assassination.
This year's bonfire was to have been lit on Thanksgiving, the night before the big game.
Bowen, the university president, said this year's bonfire would be canceled and added he was not sure if the bonfire would be permanently abolished.
"It's a very important tradition to us," he said, "but those decisions must be made at a clmer time."
Although the project is run by students, engineers and nonstudent adults are always at the site, said Thompson, the faculty adviser. The students cut the logs to lengths of about 10 feet and build the pile themselves over several weeks. Cranes and tractors life the logs, which are then tied together with bailing wire.
The structure, which this year would have included about 7,000 logs and reached 55 feet, is designed to twist inward and collapse on itself as it burns. The stack also collapsed in 1994, but no one was injured. A second was build and ignited that year.
Both students and alumni have strong opinions about the bonfire.
A group calling itself Aggies Against Bonfire has called in the past for the abolition of the annual event, saying it wastes resources, pollutes the air and contributes to dozens of injuries and alcohol related arrests each year.
Altoona Mirror Pennsylvania 1999-11-19
MIRANDA DENISE ADAMS.
MICHAEL STEPHEN EBANKS.
JEREMY RICHARD FRAMPTON.
JAMIE LYNN HAND.
CHRISTOPHER LEE HEARD.
TIMOTHY DORAN KERLEE.
LUCAS JOHN KIMMEL.
BRYAN ALLAN McCLAIN.
CHAD ANTHONY POWELL.
JERRY DON SELF.
NATHAN SCOTT WEST.