Sunday, September 13, 2009

Base jumping

The so-called Virginia Beach curse struck again. I spoke to Elliot Craddock, 18, who launched from the Pungo Ferry Bridge this morning after touching wheels with another cyclist. According to Virginia Beach Firefighters, Elliot fell approximately 50-60 feet. The doctors at VB General told Elliot that a fall 20 feet is considered critical, so his even surviving a 20x3 fall is incredible. Two sets of cat scans confirmed that his helmet did its job today.

Elliot is an experienced Cat 2 racer, a reiteration that the occurrence of cycling crashes over the past two years is due, in my opinion, to simply more riders participating and therefore more chances of incident rather than the makings of a curse. I hope Elliot's broken shoulder heals soon, and I join many others in being very glad it was not worse. See the rescue video.

Elliot told me that his group of about 7 had just started the descent when one rider got a case of speed wobble. Elliot's front wheel hooked into the guy's rear, and they danced a bit to keep the rubber side down. But Elliot ran out of room and was boxed in on the right, and the 30 mph speed sent him into the barrier. He has concrete marks on his calves from trying to catch himself as he and, yes his bike also, launched over the side. He blacked out when he hit, but his mind buzzed into action immediately despite his blurry vision. He did a mental self check before pulling himself onto the concrete slab holding up one of the bridge pillars. He landed in a bed of Spartina Alterniflora and 3 inches of water.

Check out the barriers on the Pungo Ferry Bridge compared to those on Campostella Bridge over Elizabeth River in Norfolk which is a bridge similar in height. I have searched lots and cannot find the heights of either bridge published--does anyone know? Firefighters told Elliot they estimate the peak height at 80 feet on Pungo Ferry. I speculate that Campostella, Pungo Ferry and Mills Godwin Bridge in Suffolk are the 3 tallest bridges on the secondary roads in South Hampton Roads.

Here is a view of the railings at top of Campostella Bridge which is also probably about 80 feet high. Notice that there is a concrete slab between the railing and road shoulder.

The slab could serve to slow down a cyclist or motorist crashing toward the railing. From roadway to top of railing appears to be over 100 cm. I could see going over this railing, but it would take some work. The blood on Robert's arm here is unrelated to any bridge crashes!

Here is a view of Jeff climbing up Pungo Ferry Bridge. Such a low wall pretty much nullifies the extra space the shoulder gives us on the roadway.

Here is a better look at how low the wall is a the top of Pungo Ferry. There is also no concrete slab between shoulder and the barrier, which is essentially a Jersey Wall. As I recall, the Mills Godwin Bridge in Suffolk has the same type of low barrier.

I found this photo on line. That bike next to this guy looks to be about a 56 which means the wall is approximately 65 cm high. It's easy to see how a cyclist could be launched from here. This guy looks as if he could fall just standing there.

Campostella's design, therefore, seems safer than Pungo Ferry or Mills Godwin for both motorists and cyclists, and I wonder who makes bridge wall decisions in the designs.

Here's a water view of the bridge--yikes! The rescue crews actually lowered themselves from the bridge to Elliot rather than marsh muck from the shore to rescue him. It took more than 30 min for rescue crews to make it on site and he was not out of the marsh for more than an hour. Reiterates the fact that riding in Pungo is tantamount to riding in a wilderness setting. A wilderness setting is one in which definitive care is an hour or more away.

All of Pungo Ferry Road was closed as the rescue took place, and word has it that the only person who made it past the police barrier was Elliot's father, Jeff, who put out "some serious watts" to reach his son by bike according to Elliot.

Elliot just won last Wednesday's very competitive local criterium at the Virginia Beach Amphitheater. He competed against about 30 of the area's racers, mostly category 1-3.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately Shannon distilled down my comments about group safety and situational awareness to two sentences...

BTW - On my way home yesterday (Sunday) I passed Jeff Craddock heading south towards Pungo Ferry on his bike at about 0815 - this was shortly before young Elliot took his nose dive.....he must have been really cranking after receiving the call about Elliot !