The Notre Dame Scissor Lift Tragedy

If for some reason you don’t know about this incident, here’s an article that came out the day after it happened. Or just Google it, there are hundreds of articles about it that have been posted since.

The day this happened, I recall feeling fairly upset about it and before this issue just goes away and fades out of the headlines I feel I should offer some thoughts.

I’ll start by saying hindsight is always 20/20. Always has been, always will be. Anyone can say what should have been done after something happens. I know this.

That being said though, why on Earth was this young man in this contraption on a day where there was a wind advisory issued by the National Weather Service? Now, being in the PR biz I have a pretty good gauge of PR when I see it…and I have to say the reactions from the brass at Notre Dame have been awfully PR-sounding to me. Which is really unfortunate. I am sure these folks are just looking out for themselves but my goodness people, there is no good reason why this kid should have been put in that bucket and raised up dozens of feet in the air on a portable lift when the winds were strong enough that warnings were being sent out by weather experts!

Anyone who lives anywhere in the midwest could tell you the day before and the day of that incident were windy enough that the wind was the hot topic of conversation. It was the lead story in the news most of that week. It made national news for crying out loud. I shot a video for work about safe driving practices during windy conditions, it was so bad. Bottom line: It was windy. Very, very windy. Dangerously windy. And nothing in me believes that it was just the one gust of wind that the Notre Dame athletic director said he felt while he was out there that caused this. No way, sir. Nice try but no way. Read the tweets posted by this young man leading up to the time he was in the lift and while he was in the lift. It wasn’t just one gust of wind out there that day.

What makes this worse is that word is coming out now showing that coaches of other teams used the proper (and what would seem like common sense) judgment to only raise their lifts to a limited height of about 10 feet that day, instead of the 40-50 feet Declan Sullivan was when the lift he was in tipped over. Case in point, here.

And so the whole situation just stinks – but it doesn’t have to be a complete negative. Programs around the country need to realize that video footage of a football practice, no matter how important that program is, no matter how much is riding on it…whatever…is simply not worth risking peoples’ lives for. I truly hope this tragedy will lead to a change in policy or at least an immediate review in policy for all programs and all sports that utilize these lifts for filming their teams. I don’t know what the policies are but if there are currently no wind provisions in them, there should be.

During my time in the news business I spent a year or two as a videographer. Part of that job involved operating a microwave truck for live shots. Slightly different because no one was in the contraption that was being raised into the air but yet, very similar in that if you raised that mast to its full height and it was windy enough, you were setting yourself up for potential disaster. We had rules and restrictions for windy conditions. Granted those rules may not have always been followed but maybe that’s another discussion. How much is a live shot worth? When you’re dealing with power lines that are often nearby and the welfare of not only the people working the equipment but those in the vicinity, it should be at the top of the priority list to be safe instead of risking it just to get one great shot.

Getting back to the Notre Dame incident…this was a senseless loss of life and while that is terribly sad, this young man’s death shouldn’t be the end of this story. It should also serve as a learning opportunity and despite the fact that he can’t be brought back, this can end up having a positive effect if it ends up preventing just one more person from suffering a similar fate. Do the right thing folks. Put safety over success on the field. What’s worse – losing a camera angle from a practice session or losing a life?

Rest in peace, Declan.

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5 thoughts on “The Notre Dame Scissor Lift Tragedy”

  1. I agree that this teens death was a tragedy, no doubt. Should he have been in that contraption? No. But in reality, I think back to my HS video department, I think there was maybe one person, who also taught art class.

    My guess, no one was out there who really knew much about that lift, and the safety hazards that come with shooting in something like that. Let’s face it, people who aren’t in the news business don’t really know that a live trucks shouldn’t be up during high winds, so why would they know the video lift shouldn’t be either.

    Is it pure ignorance, absolutely. But my guess is this kids was the last thing on everyone’s mind. Doesn’t make it right, but sometimes tragic things happen to make changes come about in laws, procedures, etc.

    Like

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