Student stunt death avoidable

The death of an Oxford student flung to
the ground by a stunt catapult in 2002 could have been prevented if further
safety tests had been carried out, a coroner’s inquest concluded on Wednesday. Kostydin
Yankov, a first year biochemist at Wadham, died after sustaining horrific
injuries almost three years ago when he was hurled thirty metres towards a
safety net but missed it, hitting the ground. Yankov,
known as dino, was one of a group of students who were members of the Oxford
Stunt Factory and had travelled to Middlemoor
Water Park
in Somerset to
take part in the jump. However the event itself was not organised by the Stunt
Factory which is described on its website as a "dangerous and extreme
sports club", organising the "co-ordination and performance of stunts
– particularly those involving extreme sports – including bungee jumping,
street luging, BaSe jumping, firebreathing and skydiving." The club is not
directly linked to the University, and is not a society registered with the
proctors. David
Boston, spokesperson for Oxford Stunt Factory, confirmed that the event dino
had taken part in was “organised by an uninsured third-party who was not
affiliated with the Oxford Stunt Factory". He added that the Stunt Factory
always conformed to "the high­est possible standard of safety
possible". “Dino’s friends, family and all of the club’s current members
are relieved that the affair is now closed”, he added. Reports
in 2002 said that onlookers had voiced concern that previous jump­ers had only
just reached the net and four students successfully completed the leap from the
medieval-style cata­pult prior to Yankov’s fatal jump. Oliver
nelkin, who would have been next to be catapulted, said he became alarmed that
the jumpers were landing at the very front of the 10 metre by 20 metre safety
net rather than in the mid­dle as intended. In a statement he told the inquest that the first
jumper, Paul Capsey, "landed on the net, but more to the front edge than I
had seen before. For a split second I thought he was not going to make it and I
felt relieved when he did." Nelkin described
Yankov’s jump, saying, "at some stage I saw dino as a ball in the air. He
then missed the safety net, but I couldn’t say by how much. as he hit the
ground I heard a thud and then a second thud."Yankov
broke his legs and spine on impact, sustaining multiple abdominal and chest
injuries. He was rushed to Frenchay Hospital in Bristol
but died later that evening.Jurors
at the inquest were told that a rope used to help fire the mecha­nism, known as
a strop, had been changed on the day of the incident but had not been tested. The
coroner’s verdict stated, "The accident would probably have been prevented
if a further set of tests had been performed after changing the strop." Aprivate
paramedic who was employed for the day had become concerned about the landing
posi­tions of the first jumpers and raised the matter with richard Wicks and
david aitkenhead, who designed and operated the catapult. Prior to Yank­ov’s
jump the weights on the catapult mechanism that control the length of the jump
were altered. Capsey,
who helped with the op­eration of the catapult following his own jump, told the
inquest that each jumper was weighed, weights on the catapult adjusted
accordingly and a test weight the same as the jumper fired to check for any
problems. Cap­sey said that all safety checks were completed before Yankov’s
jump.Wicks’
partner, Stella Young, was seriously injured in a jump on a pro­totype of the
catapult in May 2000, breaking her pelvis in three places after bouncing out of
the catch net. Young was responsible for weigh­ing Mr Yankov before the jump
and warning him of its dangers. She
described the stunt as "a very, very dangerous thing to do." Wicks
and aitkenhead were cleared of man­slaughter over the death last yearARCHIVE: 4th week MT 2005