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Sad Day At Philmont

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Details of deadly flash flood raise questions of oversight

http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/details-of-deadly-flash-flood-raise-questions-of-oversight-at/article_ba4cd170-af60-5eb7-a7af-22f77c9a41b8.html

 

A gripping and disturbing detailed follow-up story. Questions about camp site selection, lack of radios, trapped in tents.

 

 

“...There was anecdotal evidence and reports from folks that it could’ve been as high as 20 feet,†Jones added. “It was a tremendous amount of water.â€

 

The state police investigation is now closed. In police interviews, investigators called the deadly flood a freak accident that couldn’t have been prevented.

 

“It was an unfortunate incident that occurred, and unfortunately that group of Boy Scouts got caught up in it,†state police spokesman Sgt. Chad Pierce said in an interview.

 

The police report states that a campsite farther upstream flooded regularly and “was closed for the safety of the scouts,†but it doesn’t indicate how far upstream or if a specific event prompted its closure.

 

The Philmont Scout Ranch declined to answer any questions and referred inquiries to the Boy Scouts of America, which also declined to answer any questions, including whether any alerts were issued that night, what emergency procedures were in place, whether the organization had investigated the incident and what, if anything, could have been done to prevent Alden’s death.

 

“The passing of Alden Brock earlier this summer was a tragic accident and our staff continues to mourn the loss of this exceptional young man,†the Philmont Scout Ranch said in a statement issued by the Boy Scouts of America.

 

The organization also declined a request by The New Mexican to tour the site.

 

“We’re not scheduling any on-site media availability at Philmont Scout Ranch at this time,†it said in an email.

 

Alden’s father, Roger Brock, declined a request for an interview.

 

“Not at this moment,†he said by telephone.

 

In the last 10 years, at least 46 Boy Scouts, adult leaders or guests have died during Boy Scout outings, including four this year, according to a search of news accounts and public records.

 

Joel C. Simon, a Houston lawyer who sued the Boy Scouts on behalf of the parents of a 10-year-old who was struck and killed by a golf cart during a recruiting event in Texas in 2012, said the family deserves to know what happened.

..."

 

“I think the family … certainly is entitled to answers and whether those need to come from a lawsuit or elsewhere, I don’t know,†he said. “I feel horrible for the family.â€

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It is a sad day when the child dies before the parent. You do not expect that, whatever the cause.

Our Yearly Meeting sponsors a summer camp program, at three permanent camps and one "traveling " camp.

 

Several years ago, a storm termed a "derecho" ran through the central east coast. Our camp in Virginia was hard hit. Some weeks later, when I came down to inspect things, I passed an overpass on the main road that had an 18" by 20' long log wedged in the guard rail. I stopped to look at it and realized that this bridge, which crossed a ravine about 50 yards wide, was normally about 20 feet over the "creek" valley it traversed. When I arrived at the camp, the original bridge into the camp, which crossed the same "creek", was pushed off its supports downstream 50 feet and bent to a 45degree angle. This was a bridge constructed of 24" Hbeams and 12" Ibeam purlins. I had to walk into camp on rocks over the stream. Fortunately, the camp had closed for the season by then, and the only person on the grounds (up the mountain!) was the caretaker, who was ok, and had stories to tell. The county road was washed out had to be totally rebuilt, our neighbors houses rebuilt , our entrance bridge was rebuilt 5 feet higher, and the old bridge cut up and scrapped.

Flash floods in Virginia....

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....

The organization also declined a request by The New Mexican to tour the site.

 

....

 

Alden’s father, Roger Brock, declined a request for an interview.

 

....

 

“Not at this moment,†he said by telephone.

....

 

Joel C. Simon, a Houston lawyer who sued the Boy Scouts on behalf of the parents of a 10-year-old who was struck and killed by a golf cart during a recruiting event in Texas in 2012, said the family deserves to know what happened.

..."

 

“I think the family … certainly is entitled to answers and whether those need to come from a lawsuit or elsewhere, I don’t know,†he said. “I feel horrible for the family.â€

 

This sounds like words from parents who are fully informed and either satisfied with the answers they got from the camp or preparing legal action and have the good sense to not tip their hand to the press. Since the reporter can't pick the low-hanging fruit of a tear-jerking story, it's time to shake the tree for something nefarious.

 

From my experience of being asked by a family to handle the press on their behalf, this is the worst part of modern tragedy. Fortunately, our IH was good at stonewalling camera crews for us.

Edited by qwazse

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We are talking in another thread about the rumor of making wilderness first aid mandatory. IMHO I think advanced storm spotter training is just as important. The ability to read the sky is exceptionally important. Next, I think a warning system between HQ and the various bases is needed. I'd also recommend equipping the crews in the field with a method to get/give updates on the weather. 

 

Lastly, looking at a topo of the area where the tragedy happened, There don't appear to be any decent camping areas that are NOT in the creek bed. We did high adventure this summer and had our crews (always) two ticks above the high water mark of the creeks we were near. Yes, sometimes that meant camping on a slope but better that than this.

P34ok34.png

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@@Krampus

 

You have to realize that pencil whipped orienteering, on-line weather training/reading, and the inexperience of both scouts and scouters, isn't going to make a bit of difference in most situations.  This unfortunate accident was the result of a comedy of errors on the part of all who participated and the lost of just one life is evidence of how lucky they were in spite of that.

 

Remember map reading and map understanding are two different things.

 

Going to bed with  a clear sky above means nothing when you're in a valley, even in Iowa!  

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We are talking in another thread about the rumor of making wilderness first aid mandatory. IMHO I think advanced storm spotter training is just as important. The ability to read the sky is exceptionally important. Next, I think a warning system between HQ and the various bases is needed. I'd also recommend equipping the crews in the field with a method to get/give updates on the weather. 

 

Lastly, looking at a topo of the area where the tragedy happened, There don't appear to be any decent camping areas that are NOT in the creek bed. We did high adventure this summer and had our crews (always) two ticks above the high water mark of the creeks we were near. Yes, sometimes that meant camping on a slope but better that than this.

 

If I understand the police correctly, all of those mechanisms were in place.

 

If by "two ticks", you mean contour intervals, that would put you at 80' above on this map.  That's pretty high.

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Agree @@Stosh. And if all that is the case then you don't allow weekend warriors who are 6'3" and over 250lbs (and way off the BMI index) to lead a group of slightly-trained kids into the back country. Make WFA mandatory. Make advanced storm spotter training mandatory. Actually turn down adults who have not had an EKG and full stress test done recently. Make advanced orienteering and map reading a requirement, as well as LNT advanced training.

 

If this is to be the pinnacle experience for scouts and adults, we should make the training and requirements for it match that; not allow anyone who shows up a pass to go on the trail. BSA cannot relax the standards and then be surprised when something like this happens.

 

All that said, if you look at accident statistics for outdoor/indoor sports, more people die from those things than have died under the auspices of a scouting event. Message: When you live life it is actually dangerous.

  • Upvote 1

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If I understand the police correctly, all of those mechanisms were in place.

 

If by "two ticks", you mean contour intervals, that would put you at 80' above on this map.  That's pretty high.

 

What I inferred from the article was that HQ had radios. Some (not all) staff in the field had radios. Some crews (but not the troop in question) had radios....though I must say no crew I have ever sent or been on has been given a radio or frequency to monitor by Philmont staff. The staff at this site seemed unclear on where the unit was located or able to get them advanced warning. The crew itself did not seem to have a two-way (or even one-way) device to get/give position location, get weather data or warnings. There did not seem to be any type of auditory warning system (siren, canon, etc.) sounded to signal flash flood or tornado or anything.

 

I guess my point is that the systems that may have been in place were inadequate. Certainly for a place that processes 20,000 people a summer there should be better systems in place to warn people. Training is another issue.

 

And yes, two clicks would be 80' above stage. I might go with one click depending on the topography, but 50ft from a creek bed with no elevation change? That was clearly not a good decision.

  • Upvote 1

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Well there is that saying that you don't know what you don't know. Philmont runs 50,000 hikers through a year for how many umpteen years. It would be good to learn how many incident like this have occurred at Philmont over the years. And I'm not trying to justify one way or the other, but one of the reasons some folks don't care for outdoor youth activities is the the theoretical risk. 

 

I will say that I aged a lot of years while I was the SM because of the stress of worrying about risk. We are a very active troop and put forth a lot of effort to be safe. But, as was said, when you are a full day away from an emergency access, there is risk. 

 

Barry

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Worry is a waste of time, although I do it as well knowing that.

 

Risk on the other hand is something everyone has been involved with since birth.  All one can do is recognize that prudent learning and skill development SOMETIMES reduces that risk, but none of it ever goes completely away.

 

The Mrs. hold me one of her friends from Alaska just lost a son to a heart attack.  He had no idea he had heart disease, he was 35 years old.  Mrs.'s first husband had his first major stroke at 38.  No one knows until the cards are dealt what the game is going to be.

Edited by Stosh

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Were they camped below the high water mark?

 

As I understand the report and where the approved camp site locations (they reference #12) were this summer, it was in the field between the stream bed and the building. If I recall the report correctly, the surge picked the building there up off its foundation. Looking at the topo and hearing that information, it sounds like it is pretty flat from the creek bed to the building.

Edited by Krampus

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Having been to Philmont and met staff involved, there are some differences in this conversation. If I get the chance, I'll share what I was told. I cannot verify if my info is more accurate. I'll try to get back to this thread when I have time.

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CBS news has picked up the story. The video has as aerial view of the camp area along with a meteorologist explaining weather conditions.

 

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/tents-trapped-boy-scouts-deadly-new-mexico-flooding-police-reports/

 

Maybe zipper tents will be banned next. We used zipper-less, floorless tents back in the 60's when we camped at Ponil.

Edited by RememberSchiff

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