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Brett yager's death was preventable - part 1 (long)

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Brett Yager’s death was preventable.

Several years ago we watched an episode of “Impact: Stories of Survival†onthe Discovery Health Channel that featured the story of a 17 year old girl whowas injured while jumping in a tournament in Illinois. As that story reported,she fell forward (“out-the-frontâ€ÂÂ) upon landing and her head plunged throughthe opening of the handle, causing a “hanging-like†injury. Her trachea wassevered internally and the show went on to reenact how her life was savedthrough medical intervention. Since first seeing it, that episode has re-airedseveral times and will re-air on the Discover Health Channel on May 27 and alsoJune 1 of this year(http://health.discovery.com/tv-schedules/series.html?paid=62.10307.105905.26110.x)

After I saw that show I started thinking about how the ski handle could beredesigned to prevent such an occurrence, and I drew up the first of severalideas on my computer. That horrific accident, however, had occurred duringwaterski jumping, and I hadn’t personally been off a jump in over 15 years, soafter a while I lost interest in the issue. My original designs just sat on myhard drive and I kind of forgot the whole thing for a while.

In 2004, “Carl†started a thread on the old Nicholls forum describing anaccident he had experienced where his arm went through the handle during a falland he suffered some serious soft tissue injuries(http://eclipse.nicholls.edu/cgi-bin/BBS/webbbs_archive.pl?noframes;read=3554). Within the thread there are a number of responses that mention similarinjuries, and propose some possible solutions. That thread caused me to revisitmy earlier designs and ponder the solution some more, but because the issuehadn’t yet touched me directly I again let it go dormant.

In early July of 2006, a Pennsylvania state trooper died while waterskiing –a preliminary report stating that the handle “hit him in the head†can be foundhere: http://www.wnep.com/Global/story.asp?S=3553483 , but it was laterdetermined that he was actually killed when [presumably] his face or headentered the bridle during a fall, breaking his neck and causing him to drown.

After this horrific accident I took the time to machine parts for myoriginal design and showed it to some of my ski buddies, but - ironically – Ididn’t bother to modify our handles. I say this is ironic because on July 30,2006 I fell while waterskiing and inadvertently thrust my left arm through thehandle section, severely breaking the arm and causing injuries from which I amstill recovering.

As soon as I got out of the hospital in August 2006 I installed my device onhandles at my ski site and we began the process of testing and refining thedesign. To date this device has been used extensively in Alaska at a number ofdifferent ski sites by many skiers and on many different handle configurations.All skiers who ski on my lake use it as a matter of principle. The device hasalso been tested (somewhat secretly) in Florida and California. It is currentlyPatent Pending, and we originally had intended to release it later this summer.

But now the tragic and untimely death of Brett Yager has greatly acceleratedthe need for awareness of the extreme danger posed to all skiers by theubiquitous handle design that we have used since the sport began.

Many years ago, Fine Woodworking Magazine conducted a study regarding therelationship between power tools and hand injuries. They arrived at someinteresting conclusions; apparently the power tool responsible for the greatestnumber of injuries is the table saw – simply because virtually ALL woodworkersown and use one. However the power tool responsible for the WORST injuries isthe radial-arm saw. Injuries incurred with a radial-arm saw are much moreinfrequent, but when the DO happen they are almost always catastrophic,resulting in at least the amputation of a finger (or fingers) up to the loss ofan entire hand!

The ski handle is “our radial-arm sawâ€ÂÂ; injuries involving it are rare, butwhen they do happen they are almost always serious, often devastating, andoccasionally fatal. What may be most important to note, however, is that theyare not as rare as you might think. Many, many skiers have experiencedaccidents similar to mine, and some of them are names that you may recognize.

For example, Todd Ristorcelli – editor of “Water Ski†magazine – has writtenabout being dragged down the lake with his arm caught in the handle. ScottRabineau has done it TWICE (!), and according to what he told me, the secondtime he had to have his entire bicep surgically removed. Marcus Brown told meof a similar incident where he got hung up in the handle. In fact, according tosafety studies in California, an average of a dozen or so skiers are injuredevery year in “body part through handle†accidents – and remember, those had tobe accidents serious enough to be reported!

At the Tenth International Symposium on Skiing Trauma & Safety held atZell am See, Austria, May 17-21, 1993, the presenters concluded: “Interactionwith the towrope is a common cause of water-skiing injuries. If a skier engagesa limb in the towrope during a fall, severe injury can occur while beingdragged through the water at high speed.â€ÂÂ

In fact, such accidents are mentioned in virtually every safety study I’vefound that references water skiing. So the danger, while rare, is not asuncommon as you might think. If you don’t know someone it has happened to, youalmost certainly know someone who does know someone it has happened to. But nomatter how infrequently it may occur, if it happens to YOU it might as well be100%.

In the next several posts I’ll detail the device we’ve created, along withsome other available alternatives.

Thomas Wayne


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Brett Yagers’ death was preventable - part 2 (long)

As far as we have determined from discussion with skiers who have sufferedthe results of an arm-through-handle accident, there are two distinct types offalls that can have such a result. The most common is a slow out-the-front orsideways lay down fall at or near the buoy, where the skier releases the handlebut his hand stays in close proximity to the handle until both hit the water’ssurface. On occasion, his hand will cleanly enter the opening of the bridle,allowing the handle to slide part way (or all the way) up his arm. This is howI suffered my injury, and it’s like an “all-net†shot in basketball – you areunaware of it happening until the rope goes tight. Alternately, the skier may continueto hold the handle loosely, and when it impacts the water it’s torn from hisgrip and just slides right up the arm.

In the instances of a skier getting his head through the bridle – as BrettYager did - it usually seems to happen as a result of trying to hang onto toomuch slack and taking a big hit when the rope goes tight. What happens next isthat the skier’s arms are jerked violently forward and his body follows.Because of the elastic nature of our arms, as the skier flies forward (oftenout of the ski or skis) his arm snap back toward this body, bringing the handleinto a perfect position for him to dive head-first right into the bridle. Thisis how jumpers manage to get injured after landing, barefooters get injuredduring a faceplant, and slalom skiers get injured after a too-fast hook turn. Ihaven’t seen the video of Brett Yager’s fall – I wouldn’t want to watch it evenif I could - but I suspect this is what happened in his case.

The obvious solution is to put some sort of shield into the triangularopening of the handle that will prevent anything from passing through it tobegin with. Unfortunately, we have to be able to get our hands around thehandle to ski, so some opening is still required. We can only close off aportion of the opening, but our experiments indicate that a full 65% to 67% ofthat opening can be blocked without adversely affecting skier performance(based on a typical 12†handle configuration).

It has been suggested that such a panel may carry its own dangers, in that ifa skier DOES get his arm into the remaining opening then he will be unable toget his arm out before injury occurs. In my opinion this is equivalent to notwearing a seat belt because you want to be able to jump free from your car ifyou’re about to get into a wreck! I’ve been there, and I can tell you that thevast majority of arm-through-handle accidents happen in the blink of an eye.You are very unlikely to be aware of what has happened until it is way toolate.

By closing off the majority of the bridle opening you accomplish two things;first, you greatly reduce the target area into which your arm can enter at alland, second, you create an opening that is too small for your arm to easilyenter for any length. Remember, your arm doesn’t generally enter the openingwith a great deal of force – it just slips right in. If it DID hit the smallremaining opening [when a safety panel is in place] - with great force - thehandle itself would just be forced under water along with your hand. At worstyou might suffer sore fingers or a broken wrist – which is far better thanhaving a broken arm like mine (or worse).

And there can be no doubt that such a panel absolutely precludes thepossibility of getting your head into the bridle.

In designing our device we also experimented with various materials. In thepast, the common solutions suggested have usually involved fabric or otherflexible material, such as vinyl upholstery sheeting or netting/webbing of somesort. The problem with this approach is that fabric may actually increase thedanger, due to the fact that it can act as a “funnelâ€ÂÂ, bowing in such a manneras to guide the skier’s hand (and arm) into what little opening is leftexposed. If the panel allows the opening to billow open, creating a much largerpassage for your arm, then it is little more than a psychological comfort.There is an additional problem with solid fabrics (such as vinyl sheeting) inthat they don’t allow water or air to easily pass through, so such a panel canact as a rudder in the water and a sail in the air.

What about something solid, such as a triangle of plywood or fiberglassplate? Well, this is actually closer to what we believe is the correct solutionbut, in addition to the whole rudder/sail issue, it also presents a weightproblem and creates a hard (and therefore dangerous) surface flying around atthe end of your rope. So it seemed to us that the solution needed to be fairlyrigid, extremely porous, and soft enough to impact without breaking a finger ornose.

Our solution was to machine a safety panel out of a semi-rigid polycarbonateplate, sometimes better known by the brand name “Lexanâ€ÂÂ. We designed vent holesand attachment points and experimented with various grades and gauges until wearrived at what we believe to be the best combination. These safety panels arerequired for all skiers at my lake, and are used religiously on several otherlakes in the area. Below are photos of this invention attached to varioushandles. I might also mention that we have put this device on several otherhandle configurations, including “easy-up†bridles and radius handles.

Thomas Wayne

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OTHER SOLUTIONS (Scott Rabineau)


While we have applied for patent protection on severalaspects and iterations of our invention, there are a couple of other solutionsthat have been tried and are currently in use.

Scott Rabineau, who suffered two arm-through-handle injuries, designed avinyl/fabric cover that slides over the bridle and attaches with Velcro and/orwire ties. He has made these for several skiers over the years, includingMarcus Brown. I have no idea what he would charge to make one, but a localmarine upholstery shop looked at the photo and quoted me $50. Scott can bereached at: srabeneau@earthlink.com and here is a close-up of his device inuse:

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While we have applied for patent protection on severalaspects and iterations of our invention, there are a couple of other solutionsthat have been tried and are currently in use.

Chef Anton is a hydrofoil rider (“Air Chairâ€ÂÂ) out of Canyon Lake, CA. Chefis a professional entertainer by trade, performing as a magician and also as abilliard trick-shot artist – so I actually know him from three different arenas(!). He tells me that arm-through-handle injuries are VERY common amonghydrofoil riders, so he has manufactured a fabric safety panel to address thisissue. The device is pictured below as it comes, and is typically attached to abarefoot jump handle; price as of three days ago was $100. He will also sew hisdevice onto your handle for a custom fee of $50 - $75, depending on the handleconfiguration. Chef can be reached at 800-679-3859.


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Final comments about the ARM-GUARDâ„¢

Obviously we believe our improvements to the basic bridlecover to be significant, or we wouldn’t have bothered to apply for a patent. Icurrently have a number of hand-machined panels in stock, but we are about 3weeks out on some final tooling for producing these in greater quantities. Thebasic set includes the custom machined polycarbonate safety panel, high qualitysteel-tooth wire ties and the midpoint handle link as seen in our photos. Fullinstruction sheet is included and email tech support is also available. Thecurrent versions available fit standard Masterline, Radar (and similar handles)and ARS (current HO configuration). Radius handle require a special panel thatthe end user (you) trim to match your handle curve; these we make on specialorder (same price as standard design).

The price for our ARM-GUARDâ„¢ set is $45, which includes shipping andhandling. Within the next two weeks we will have a website set up to handleorders; payment will be via PayPal. Until the shopping cart system is completedwe can take orders directly via email at twcues@gci.net

Whether you choose to try one of the other devices available, cobbletogether your own experiment, or buy from us we would strongly urge all skiersto add some form of safety panel to their handle sections. It is anindisputable fact that if such a device had been in place on May 2, 2008 inAcapulco Brett Yager would not have died the way he did.

If your own safety and the safety of your fellow skiers is not enoughincentive to make you act on this issue immediately I’ll give you one morereason. For the next two years, 10% of the gross sales of our devicewill go directly into a college fund set up for Brett Yager’s son Tyler.

Thomas Wayne

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