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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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20/20 investigates the bonfire collapse of 1999

Bonfire
Photo by Photo by: Kevin Chou
Bonfire

Usually, people reflect on the lives lost in the collapse of the A&M bonfire, but  20/20 In An Instant: Buried By Bonfire TV special shed a new light on the survivors, rescue crew and school leaders who experienced this tragedy.

On Nov. 18, 1999 at approximately 2:42 a.m., the Aggie Bonfire, which was being built for about the 90th time, collapsed as it was ¾ of the way done for the Thanksgiving game. This was to be the second to last shift before the stack was set to be lit, an Aggie tradition to build logs in a birthday cake formation.

Actual TV footage from the bonfire was displayed, along with reenactments, and interviews with the survivors, family members of those who passed away, members of the rescue teams who helped lend a hand during the event and eyewitnesses as well.

 “As a current member of Student Bonfire and the Women’s Bonfire Committee, it reminded me again of why I put the effort into this community year after year. For some of us, this was a refresher in our value of safety, in our dependence on each other, in our upmost trust in our fish buddies and crew members.”Dahniella Alcaraz, telecommunications senior, said.

The documentary interviewed the survivors for two hours: John Comstock (who lost his leg and sustained serious injuries), Bill Davis and Mandy Nakai Lucke. The special also focuses on two of the twelve who passed away after being trapped in the bonfire: Tim Kerlee Jr. and Miranda Adams.

“The TV special made the bonfire collapse a lot more personal, and highlighted the emotional capacities present at that time. They did a good job presenting the problems the parents of the students trapped in the bonfire faced, which had not been publicized before.” David Laurel, computer science junior, said.

Within the first hour, 25 injured were pulled from the fallen stack. Hours later, the remaining two injured – John Comstock and Bill Davis – were transported to a nearby hospital. In total, the collapse resulted in 12 fatalities and 27 Aggies sustained injuries of varying intensity.

“This documentary did a great job respecting the Aggie traditions we value. It was an interesting way to memorialize the events, and capture the memories of the families affected by the collapse.” Student Bonfire Senior Redpot Michael Martinez, said.

Standing over 100 feet, the stack was described to weigh more than two passenger jets fully occupied. Dust clouded the entire scene, kicked up from the impact of the heavy logs.

“I don’t think it was an accurate portrayal of collapse, only because you can’t accurately try to recreate the tragedy of a 90 foot stack toppling over and students falling off.” Alcaraz said.

Alcaraz went on to explain that she was thankful the reenactment wasn’t perfect, given that it would have been extremely heartbreaking to see the bonfire fall after experiencing working on Student Bonfire during stack shifts.

“Coming together and building bonfire is a tradition that needs to remembered and honored, keeping the fallen 12 in our memories and showing the world we still have that same burning desire in our hearts that they did for our school and fellow Aggies.” Kathy Modrow, animal science senior, said.

6,000 people had gathered to watch the rescue of the last few people out of the bonfire, and there was silence. Silence in awe of the situation at hand, and silence so the rescue crews could hear those still alive inside the collapsed structure. Vigils were held surrounding the catastrophe for 24 hours, a shining example of the Aggie family.
 

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