I think by now many of you in the suspension community are well aware of the recent accident involving Neil, which left him with some pretty serious facial injuries, a concussion, and a lot of people asking what went wrong. There were a few ways this could have been handled; he could have hushed everything up and tried to hide that an accident happened, he could have blamed the practitioners present at the suspension meet, or he could have tried to brush all the blame off on a faulty product and just told people that his hooks failed. Luckily for our community, he approached the situation as an adult and did none of those. Instead, after he had cleared his head a bit, he posted online what had happened, and began responding to concerns and questions about the fall. There is a lot to be learned from any failure that happens, and the biggest lesson comes when we take a minute to look at where the failure actually happened and why.
So who is to blame here? Well let’s look at the elements involved.
- Neil chose to hang from two 7 gauge Blacksheep Hooks knowing that they shouldn’t be shock loaded. However, what we know as practitioners generally comes from experience, and he had suspended in the same manner on 8 gauge Blacksheeps in the past with no issue at all. Suspending on a stronger version of the same hook seemed like a safe decision. He was also not aware of the added bounce that the tree limb would throw into the mix as he swung.
- Then there are the other practitioners involved. They did mention that they felt Gilson hooks would be better suited, but chose to continue with the suspension when Neil opted for the hooks he chose. Yes, they could have shut the suspension down and refused to move forward unless he was willing to use Gilsons. It’s wonderful how, after the fact, all of us can say that is exactly what we would have done. In reality, many of us (myself included) tend to let experienced practitioners have leeway with making decisions involving their suspensions that we normally wouldn’t with a typical suspendee. Also, this portion of the suspension was a suicide that put him a couple feet off the ground; a suspension many of us would view as fairly low-risk in the moment.
- The hooks. I have seen a few people mentioning the hooks being to blame for the failure. Well, yes and no. Yes, the hooks were the piece of equipment that failed, but were they really used within the scope of what they are intended for? No, and that is where all three of these come together with a few other elements to put Neil face down in the dirt.
What exactly happened then, and who do we point the finger at here? It seems like when there is an accident the knee jerk reaction is to find who to point the blame toward. Sometimes it is just going to boil down to the fact that we are a growing community, and our education sometimes comes at the expense of something like this.
The breakdown is this. We as a community need to really start analyzing the tools we use and how we should be applying them. When Blacksheep Hooks first came out, they were lumped by many in with ‘locking hooks’ because there are only locking and non locking right? We need to keep in mind that just because a hook closes, it isn’t all the same category. Blacksheep Hooks are a closed hook, but are not intended to be shock loaded or put under the kind of stresses that we tend to push them to. They are an incredible product which can be pierced in either direction, won’t slip out as the suspendee moves or is rigged, are made of known metals with a high polish unlike fish hooks, and are certainly stronger than many of the styles of fish hooks which are used. As with any good product, however, they do have their limitations and will fail when they are taken beyond that point.
This is where the failure happened in this suspension. Several very small things came together to push a product past its ability. Neil knew that he is capable of thrashing, swinging, and otherwise abusing gear much more than the average suspendee, but chose to suspend from Blacksheep Hooks because he had used them for this in the past. The practitioners involved chose to let him suspend on them rather than Gilsons based on his experience level as a practitioner and the fact that this was what seemed like a low risk suspension. Added to that was something that they weren’t counting on, which was the tree limb giving Neil quite a bit of added bounce. Although in a nice slow swing it might have had little to no impact on the suspension as it swayed with him, with how he went into the suspension followed by thrashing on the hooks, there is going to be a point where the limb is moving upward as his body slams down. One of the people there said that it looked like the limb added a sort of ‘whip’ to the line as it jerked taunt and caused the hooks to fail and bend out.
It seems like some simple things to avoid; use Gilsons, take every little element like the bounce of a limb into account, trust your gut instinct on how you allow someone to suspend. As I said, hindsight is amazing. Everyone critiquing the decisions made have the luxury of having not been present to have to make those choices before all of this came together. I honestly can’t say I would have done anything differently than they did. Who knows. The important fact here isn’t to look at the could have, would have of this situation, but rather to take advantage of why Neil is putting this mistake out there so openly. We need to all slow down, take a look at what we use and why, and apply that to choose the right tool for the job when we suspend people.
As for the other practitioners involved, I wasn’t there, but I would like to quote what was said by the photographer for the evening, Aaron Rogers, about the situation in the moments after Neil hit the ground: “It was amazing to see the team work in this situation. It was like being in the ER. I knew there were safety people monitoring and controlling the hang I just did not realize how many. Tough to explain but it was handled with military precision and it all happened so fast. They were on him before I even understood what had happened. The area was instantly cleared of all bio. And with in seconds all I saw were blue gloves and masks moving like a single machine making sure Neil was ok. Very impressive to see. ”
These guys aren’t some group of amateurs or hacks. They were well trained practitioners who managed to tackle a terrible and terrifying situation quickly and professionally. I am sure that nothing said by Neil or anyone else is going to get them past the ‘If I had only done this or that differently’ mindset, but for what it is worth, I hope they each know that they probably went into this making the same judgment calls many of us would have. More importantly, they acted quickly and efficiently in a situation a lot of us might freeze up in.
Below is a video of the suspension from beginning to when Neil hits the ground, which is about 15 seconds. The point of failure is repeated at the end in slow motion, with the lighting turned up as much as possible. Although it is very hard to see with it being an evening/night suspension, I thought it was important for people, especially beginning practitioners, to see how quickly failure happens. A lot of people imagine situations always being a matter of having the time to say, “Is that hook bending a bit?” or “Let’s take a look and see if that skin looks like it is holding well.” Sometimes you do have that luxury, a lot of times you don’t.
This video was hard for many of Neil’s close friends to watch. Although it is in no way graphic, please be warned that it does involve someone we love taking a hard, face-first fall to the ground.
I would like to note that posting this was not my call, but Neil’s. It takes a lot to publicize an accident like this to let other people learn from it. I have an immense amount of respect for him choosing to make his accident a lesson to learn from. All of us (especially any of the aspiring practitioners reading) should take note of what went wrong here, and take a minute when you work to really think about every element that can impact the success or failure of a suspension. Often times when things go wrong, we can trace it back to one major failure point, but sometimes it really is just several small decisions or elements that happen to line up at the wrong time.
Thank you for sharing what happened Neil. I am relieved you are alright, and it was wonderful to see you feeling so much better in Las Vegas.