The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a film and marketing student at Notre Dame died Wednesday when a tower from which he was filming football practice fell over. Authorities are investigating the accident to try to piece together what happened to Declan Sullivan, a 20-year-old junior. The hydraulic scissor lift was extended to get shots from above while winds were gusting at 50 MPH through South Bend, Indiana. Head Coach Brian Kelly said in a statement, “Declan was a diligent worker in our video department and had a tremendous personality and great sense of humor.”
Notre Dame officials report Sullivan’s sister is a freshman at the University. A funeral mass and memorial service was held the evening of Oct. 28 and was live-streamed on the web, according to a press release. State and local officials will be investigating the incident “thoroughly and expediently.”
Tragedies and accidents happen all of the time. College is supposed to a safe place where students can get an education. However, sometimes accidents at university events can turn tragic or go horribly wrong. One accident is memorable in my mind because a years-long college tradition was forever altered due to the tragedy.
Texas A&M Bonfire
A tradition during the fall semester, the Aggie Bonfire at Texas A&M revolved around their football rivalry with the University of Texas. Over the years, the bonfire grew to tremendous heights. The record for the bonfire height was 1969, when it stood 109 feet tall. After the record-setting construction, the administration set the height at 55 feet from that moment onward. You can see a picture of the bonfire blazing here.
In November of 1999, a tragic accident befell those constructing the bonfire before it was to be burned. As the logs were being stacked at the highest part of the bonfire, the tower began to fall over. Twelve people died in the collapse, and the bonfire has never been re-created on such a scale ever again. Now a memorial bonfire, much smaller, burns every year to remember the victims. A permanent memorial stands on the site of the collapse.
In 2009, the 10th anniversary of the accident, a 10-minute tribute video was produced. Although 1999 brought an end to the bonfire tradition, there were unfortunate bonfire deaths in 1955, 1982 and 1996 as well. “Modern Marvels” featured the accident in one of their segments and is available on YouTube. The Texas A&M bonfire construction of 1970 is also available on YouTube.
Aggies Compared to Notre Dame
Both accidents occurred in conjunction with highly anticipated sporting events. Students were participating in activities which should be reasonably safe. In both tragedies, the deaths seem to have been preventable.
Placing safety concerns first as well as scaling down projects from unrealistically huge proportions or trying to take video from a tower blasted by strong winds would seem common sense. Tragedies like these are much more difficult to understand because the people who died were just beginning their lives and should have reasonably been able to participate in student fun or complete their job without injury or harm.
Associated Press, “Notre Dame student dies after tower falls”, San Francisco Chronicle.
N.D. Newswire, “Notre Dame leaders speak on accident, student death”, newsinfo.nd.edu.
Mervosh, Sarah and Laura McCrystal “ND junior dies in video tower accident”, The Observer.
Texas A&M, “Traditions Council”, tamu.edu.
Texas A&M, “Remembering Bonfire”, bonfire.tamu.edu.
Texas A&M, “Bonfire Memorial”, tamu.edu.
Texas A&M, “The Texas A&M Bonfire Tragedy”, tamu.edu.