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Bonfire panel cites structural, organizational problems

The collapse of the annual bonfire at Texas A&M University Nov. 18 was caused by both structural and organizational problems, according to a report issued Tuesday by a special commission that investigated the accident.

Leo Linbeck, a Houston construction company executive who chaired the person commission, attributed the tragedy to "aggressive wedging'' of logs into the first level of the wedding-cake-shaped stack and insufficent cables to hold together the towering, 59-foot structure.

Those weaknesses were possible because of an "organizational failure'' of students and university officials, which allowed "a complex and dangerous structure'' to be built, Mr. Linbeck said.

The organizational failure, which "had its roots in decisions and actions by both students and university officials over many many years,'' failed to provide "adequate physical and engineering controls,'' Mr. Linbeck said.

For instance, there was no written design or design process and no "pro-active risk management approach.''

The commission ruled out various factors as contributing to the collapse, which killed 12 and injured 27:

The center pole, around which the stack was built. Tests showed the pole was of good quality.

A crane that hit the stack days before the collapse.

Soil beneath the bonfire stack.

Mr. Linbeck also said that while there was evidence of "drinking, horseplay and other irresponsible behaviors, none of them played a role in the collapse.''

He also said "there was no evidence that poor individual workmanship, excessive fatigue poor compliance or sabotage played a role in the collapse.''

The bonfire, a 90-year-old tradition run by students at Texas A&M, is lighted before the annual football game with the University of Texas. It consisted of 5,000 legs that came cascading down in the early morning hours of November 18, burying student workers. The structure was supposed to be no higher than 55 feet but had reached 59 feet by the time of the collapse.

The bonfire has been run by the Redpots, a group of 16 to 18 seniors and juniors named for the color of their Army-style hard hats, since the 1970s. Redpots raise more than $50,000 to put on the bonfire, procure trees and supervise the thousands of students who use chain saws, axes, tractors and trucks to cut the logs and transport them to A&M.

They direct the stacking of the logs into a tower in a process involving construction cranes, pickup trucks and students in swings high above the ground.

The future of bonfire, whcih is among the most cherisehd traditions at a school steeped in them, is up to A&M's president, Dr. Ray Bowen. Two students have launched a petition drive to preserve the tradition, and Dr. Bowen already has said he "would bet" the annual event would continue.

The commission, which was created by A&M in December, received $2 million to conduct the investigation. Mr. Linbeck estimated the final bill would total about $1.8 million.

To view the entire report, click on the link below.
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