A bonfire about 12 years ago at Texas A&M University
At approximately 2:30 a.m. on November 18, 1999, the 40-foot (12 m) high stack, consisting of about 5000 logs, collapsed during construction. Of the 58 students and former students working on the stack, 12 were killed and 27 were injured. Within minutes of the collapse, members of Texas Task Force 1, the state's elite emergency response team, arrived to begin the rescue efforts. Rescue operations took over 24 hours; the pace was hampered by the fact that many of the logs were removed by hand for fear that using heavy equipment to remove them would cause further collapses, resulting in further injuries to those still trapped. Students, including the entire Texas A&M football team and many members of the university's Corps of Cadets, rushed to the site to assist rescue workers with manually removing the logs. The Texas A&M civil engineering department was also called on to examine the site and help the workers decide the order in which the logs could be safely removed, and, at the request of the Texas Forest Service, Steely Lumber Company in Huntsville, Texas sent log-moving equipment and operators. Bonfire survivor John Comstock was the last living person to be removed from the stack. He spent months in the hospital following amputation of his left leg and partial paralysis of his right side. Comstock returned to A&M in 2001 to finish his degree.
Our middle son (following in the tradition of his father) worked on building the bonfire. He had worked on the previous shift and was spared this horrific tragedy as far as bodily injury. However, he lost friends and some friends were injured. Our son called us about 5 a.m. just to say, "Dad, I'm okay. There's been an accident on the bonfire. Turn on your TV." That was all we heard from him for hours.
Tuesday night we will attend a memorial service to remember the students who lost their lives, those injured and those who will never forget this terrible tragedy.