ND Student ‘Terrified’ Minutes Before Fatal Fall
UPDATED 10/28/10 5:02 p.m
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (CBS) - Online posts by a Notre Dame student indicate he was terrified as he filmed yesterday’s Notre Dame football practice on a hydraulic lift. Minutes after posting his fears on his Twitter and Facebook pages, the lift blew over in high winds, and he was killed.
Now the university is facing questions about whether the student should have been there at all.
Declan Sullivan, 20, of Long Grove, apparently tweeted his fears about the danger from the wind within an hour of his death.
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“Gusts of wind up to 60mph well today will be fun at work… I guess I’ve lived long enough :-/” Sullivan wrote in one post on Twitter and Facebook.
The sarcasm stopped about an hour later, when he wrote, “Holy f— holy f— this is terrifying.”
A friend responded: “I’m assuming you’re on the lift and your life is passing before your eyes.”
He was on a scissor lift filming Fighting Irish football practice, when investigators believe wind toppled the platform to the ground. Police believe the platform was raised about 50 feet high when it came crashing down onto a street adjacent to the practice field.
The wind gust that toppled the lift was perhaps as strong as 50 mph. It happened less than an hour after Sullivan’s final post on his Facebook and Twitter pages.
Sullivan was transported to a South Bend hospital, where he died.
CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports that Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick has promised there would be a full investigation, but he did not say who was responsible for allowing the student to use the lift.
He also said the mood on the field just before the accident was much different than that described by Sullivan.
“I would guess I entered the practice facility some time around 4:47 or 4:48,” Swarbrick said. “It was an unremarkable journey in the sense that practice was normal, plays were being conducted with no difficulty.”
Swarbrick said the wind gust that toppled the scissor lift was sudden and unexpected, causing equipment to begin flying.
“I turned … to face north and experienced a pretty extraordinary burst of wind. Things started flying by me that had been stationary for all of practice — Gatorade containers, towels, etc. I noticed the netting by the goal post start to bend dramatically and I heard a crash,” he said.
Swarbrick said training staff, medical trainers, coachers, players responded to Sullivan, but after emergency workers arrived, the team went back to the field so the rescuers could help the student. Sullivan was taken to a South Bend hospital, but Swarbrick said he received a call from the ambulance before it arrived that Sullivan was no longer breathing.
According to manufacturer recommendations for the lifts, Sullivan should not have been there.
The lifts are reportedly not for use in winds over 28 mph. Sustained winds of over 30 mph were reported with gusts up to 50 mph. Indiana workplace safety agency officials are now investigating.
The National Weather Service said winds in the area were gusting to 51 mph at the time when the hydraulic scissor lift, which can be lowered or raised depending on needs, fell over. The football team had practiced indoors the day before because of the blustery conditions caused by a fierce storm.
It was not clear specifically who authorized Sullivan to go up in the scissor lift to videotape Wednesday’s practice, but Swarbrick said it was the decision to practice outside was left up to individual programs at the university. As a student worker, Sullivan reported to a video coordinator associated with the team.
Swarbrick said the university would review its protocol for sending people up in the temporary towers. He said at least one other student was in a temporary tower.
“We’re going to look at how it was done this day,” he said. The university also was going to investigate whether Sullivan had contact with anyone when he was in the tower filming practice.
“There’s a lot to learn here and we will learn it all,” Swarbrick said.
Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration spokesman Marc Lotter said Thursday the agency had an investigator on the scene in South Bend. He said it was too early to say when the agency, which has the authority to levy fines, might release a report.
“Declan Sullivan was a bright, energetic, dedicated young man and we will miss him greatly.” university president, the Rev. John Jenkins, said Thursday.
Sullivan was a third-year marketing and film student at Notre Dame. He also wrote for the school student newspaper, The Observer.
A memorial mass for Sullivan is set for 9 p.m. Central Time Thursday, at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the Notre Dame campus.
CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole, Mike Parker and Mike Puccinelli and The Associated Press contributed to this report.