'All of a sudden everything went wrong'

Survivors: As Donald Wise and Tim Beck were winched up a tower to do maintenance work, the cable went slack and they plunged 200 feet onto a fence. 'This gives me bragging rights, right here,' Wise says.

May 19, 1999|By Dail Willis and Jackie Powder | Dail Willis and Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Two maintenance workers on a Catonsville communications tower survived a terrifying 200-foot fall onto a chain-link fence yesterday when their safety equipment failed, escaping with bruises and minor fractures.

"It's a miracle -- God's grace saved his life," said Russell Beck, the father of one man and owner of Blanton Antenna Services, the Severn company that erects and maintains radio, television and cellular towers and employs the two men.

Donald Wise, 25, of Pasadena and Tim Beck, 18, of Severn fell from the 1,100-foot tower on Powers Lane behind the Normandy Shopping Center when a winch cable supporting them lost tension about 8: 30 a.m.

"This gives me bragging rights, right here," Wise said.

Wise was released from the hospital yesterday afternoon. Beck is expected to be released today.

"We were talking and joking around," said Wise, who has worked for Blanton for three years. "It was about 200 feet, and all of a sudden everything went wrong. We felt no tension on the line, and we started falling and picking up speed."

Witnesses said the men were yelling as they fell.

Wise said his partner landed on the chain-link fence and paramedics had to cut him free.

"I landed on a bent part of the fence, right on the stomach, like someone hit me with 10,000 bricks," Wise said. "It propelled me 10 feet, and I landed in the grass."

The elder Beck said the men were riding a winch line to the work area, 800 feet above the ground, when the accident occurred. Wise and the elder Beck said the workers were wearing the necessary safety gear, including helmets and harnesses.

Karen Napolitano, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said the accident is under investigation.

"We cannot comment further until after the investigation is completed," she said.

The tower belongs to WNUV (Channel 54), Beck said. Other companies lease space on the tower, but he declined to say who had employed him for yesterday's job.

Police and fire officials said the work was being done for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but Beck would not confirm that.

"We were renovating some equipment on the tower," he said.

Beck said that when he received word that his son had fallen, he rushed to the site, where he spoke with his son.

"He told me he was in pain but he was all right," Beck said.

The injured workers were taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. Wise was treated for minor injuries and released. Beck underwent surgery yesterday, his father said.

"He has a broken wrist, a dislocated elbow and a cut on his head," the elder Beck said yesterday. "Nothing is serious. He'll probably be released tomorrow."

Aside from a bad headache and an aching body, Wise said he escaped without injury -- "the Lord was with me" -- and plans to return to work in about a week.

"It's good exercise, something different," Wise said of his job.

Sun staff writer Dan Thanh Dang contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 5/19/99

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