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Aerial camera company says mechanical parts didn’t fail in cable snap at race

Investigation into cause of incident in Charlotte race nears completion.

- jperson@charlotteobserver.com
Thursday, May. 30, 2013

Officials could know Friday what caused a rope to snap on an overhead camera at last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600, injuring at least 10 fans.

A spokesman for CAMCAT, an Austrian company that operated the aerial camera rig for Fox Sports, said it would know by next week at the latest what caused the rope attached to a TV camera to break during Lap 121 of Sunday night’s race. The incident caused cuts and scrapes to fans and sent three to the hospital.

Workers dismantling the system Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway determined none of the mechanical parts of the camera or pulley system caused the rope to break, CAMCAT chief executive officer Alexander Brozek said.

Officials with CAMCAT and the manufacturer of the synthetic rope Dyneema are investigating.

The two cables and rope that snapped had been used twice before Sunday’s race – at the Daytona 500 in February and at NASCAR’s Sprint All-Star Race in Charlotte on May 18, according to CAMCAT officials. They said the cables and rope were inspected three times before the Charlotte races.

“The ropes were inspected after Daytona. They were also inspected during the rigging in Charlotte and the pulling rope was inspected once again before the camera was mounted,” CAMCAT spokesman Philipp Hatzl said in an email Thursday. “On May (22) the full system was checked completely again – including the ropes. A visual inspection is done every day.”

The drive rope and two guide lines were attached to a camera suspended over the frontstretch between Turns 4 and 1. When the drive rope snapped, it fell onto the track and the lower rows of spectators.

The rope apparently caught in the undercarriage of several cars, breaking it into smaller segments and whipsawing it through the stands, where many fans were attempting to reel it in hand-over-hand. Drivers went around two laps trying to avoid the rope before the race was stopped.

This is not the first time an aerial camera system has failed at a major sporting event. During the fourth quarter of the 2011 Insight.com Bowl football game between Oklahoma and Iowa, the overhead camera crashed onto the field, narrowly missing Iowa receiver Martin McNutt Jr.

That camera system was supplied by SkyCam, a division of Winnercomm, a sports production and development company in Oklahoma.

Brozek, the CAMCAT chief executive officer, said the “camera buggy” at Sunday’s race was never in danger of falling because it was held by three independent lines. Brozek said this is the first safety-related problem for CAMCAT’s overhead camera system, which was developed in 2000.

The drive rope on the system used in Charlotte had been factory-tested by the manufacturer in June 2012 before being shipped to CAMCAT. Its breaking strength was certified at 9,300 pounds, Fox Sports said. During the race, the rope should not have encountered forces exceeding 900 pounds, according to the network.

In a statement, Brozek apologized to the fans who were injured.

“Our particular concern is the motorsport fans, who got injured in this incident. We want to tell them our sincere apologies and wish them a quick recovery,” Brozek said. “We also deeply regret that racers were affected and inconveniences as well as damages caused.”

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