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A recent article by Andrew Metcalf at Patch includes witnesses describing the rescue efforts (or lack of rescue efforts) after Sengupta’s friends reported that he did not surface from the jump. Nicholas Sayers was at the Walk The Plank obstacle watching his sister participate in the Tough Mudder:
…it seemed like almost five minutes passed before a rescue diver began a search for Sengupta. He said he was told to clear the area by staff members before Sengupta was pulled from the water.
“Only one diver was in the water searching for the body when I left,” said Sayers.
Antoinette DiVittorio, a 35-year-old Alexandria woman, said she was also at the event watching her boyfriend compete. She said she was watching the Walk the Plank obstacle when Sengupta jumped.
“I was waiting on the side where the water was, watching people jump in,” said DiVittorio. “His teammates were waiting on the side of the water when one guy said to a staff member ‘my teammate jumped into the water and didn’t come out yet.’”
She said the staff member didn’t take action for a few minutes after being told Sengupta was still in the water. It wasn’t until one of Sengupta’s teammates and herself asked the staff member, “Why aren’t you doing anything?”, that the staff member took action, she said.
“At that point in time they made everyone stop jumping,” said DiVittorio. She said one staff member in a wetsuit began searching the top of the water. She said he did that for a couple of minutes when another staff member ran down to the site, asked what was going on, and once he found out, he ordered the other staff member to put on a scuba tank and goggles to search underwater.
“It seemed like an extensive period of time went by before anyone went under,” said DiVittorio. “Within one minute of trolling the bottom, they pulled him out.”
DiVittorio estimated that an ambulance didn’t arrive until about 30 minutes after Sengupta was pulled from the water, despite her seeing multiple ambulances located across the course. During that time, she said rescuers attempted to resuscitate Sengupta.
This is what I was discussing with many of those who came to the defense of Tough Mudder, commenting that all risk can’t be removed. But I am not thinking that all risk can be removed. I am, however, certain that a lot of it can be controlled better with the reasonable application of protocols. Having to be talked into action by participants – I think all can agree – is not a reasonable action plan.
How this could have gone (without any additional expense to Tough Mudder)
- Event: A guard notices or is told someone is still underwater.
- Step 1: An alarm (whistle, bullhorn, you pick it) is sounded – all jumping stops.
- Step 2: Standby ambulance dispatched
- Step 3: Standby divers (two at least please) simultaneously enter the water and sweep the bottom while other guards prep spinal immobilization equipment for water extraction.
An emergency action plan just that simple would have had Sengupta out of the water in under a minute from the first report. This is just one of many cost-neutral (not that spending more money on safety is out of order) protocols that could be put in place that would be transparent to the participant’s experience and dramatically increase the safety posture of the events.