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Fatal Auto-Belay Failure Forces Change at Australian Climbing Gym

Last week, a man fell 43 feet to his death at a rock climbing gym in Sydney, Australia. Today, the gym confirmed that the incident involved an auto-belay system.

A man, reported to be in his 30s, was climbing at Sydney Indoor Climbing Gym’s St. Peters location when an accident on an auto-belay system occurred. He died at the scene under the care of responding paramedics.

The facility will reopen on Oct. 22 on its normal schedule — without auto-belays. Addressing its findings via social media, the company said “[a]ll our auto-belays have been taken away and auto-belays will not be used again at St. Peters.”

It also removed the auto-belays at its sister facility in Villawood.

The gym went on to address the rest of its equipment: “No other equipment was involved. We can add that we have undertaken a comprehensive program of equipment inspection and testing prior to the reopening tomorrow.”

The man’s identity has not been released. And whether equipment or operator failure caused the accident is unknown; officials haven’t determined a cause of death. The gym requests that “[o]ut of respect for everyone involved, we would ask that everyone avoid speculation.”

How to Auto-Belay Safely

It’s the first death at a climbing gym in 2021, but not the first time auto-belays have been implicated in the death of a climber. In June, a woman died at Ascent Climbing & Fitness in Fort Collins, Colo., in an auto-belay accident. It’s believed that she clipped into the system improperly, and the Larimer County Coroner ultimately ruled her death accidental.

Botched clipping is a well-known pitfall of auto-belay systems. Reports and hearsay of climbers clipping their harnesses incorrectly, failing to properly secure the carabiner, or forgetting to clip in altogether are relatively common.

Safe auto-belay climbing starts right where safe roped climbing starts — by checking your attachment point.

Always check your knot (or carabiner) and belay setup before you climb. For auto-belays, this involves clipping the carabiner into your harness, and making sure it’s locked. If you want to test the system itself, you can always perform a test fall from a safe height before committing to climbing all the way up.

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