Hearn Tragedy

R.I.P. Hearn Explorer
Ryan Nyenhuis

I do not personally know this explorer but do feel very saddened by the tragic loss of any explorer. My sincere condolences to his friends and family. Please understand that he was passionately enjoying a hobby at the time of his accident.
Urban Exploration does pose risks. With experience, safety equipment, and the advice of other Explorers, these risks are manageable.
Leave a message at ebituary.

(image credits - from fellow explorer 'v.n.' who requested anonymity. The community has been following this very sad story since the first emergency vehicle was dispatched)

From the Globe & Mail Article . . .
Urban explorer pays for his hobby with his life
Man dies from injuries after three-storey fall inside decommissioned power station
June 18, 2008 // Anthony Reinhart

To urban explorers, it's known simply as Hearn, one of Toronto's top destinations for camera-toting adventurers with a fondness for abandoned buildings.

From now on, they will also know it as the place where a fellow enthusiast died after a three-storey fall into a coal hopper on the weekend.

A 26-year-old man from Northern Ontario died of brain injuries in a Toronto hospital yesterday, two days after he tumbled from a catwalk high inside the Richard L. Hearn Thermal Generating Station, a sprawling fifties-era power plant in the midst of being dismantled on the city's east-end waterfront.

Police said the man and a 24-year-old friend, who were not employees at the site, "gained access through a secure area of the building for the purposes of taking artistic photographs of the building's interior" and were on a sixth-floor catwalk when the man fell and became trapped at about 4 p.m. Emergency workers took nearly three hours to free him.

The man's family has been notified, but his name has not been released.

As Detective Constable Kim O'Toole continued her investigation yesterday, alongside officials from the Ontario Ministry of Labour because the demolition site is a workplace, another adventurer familiar with the Hearn plant lamented not only the man's death, but his decision to take such an extreme risk in the first place.

"It's a shame that he died," Alex, who lives west of Toronto and works in information technology, said yesterday. "The fact that he was crawling up through a power station that's in the process of being demolished, especially that high up, is stupid to my mind."

Urban exploration, which can involve trespassing and breaking and entering, is a fringe activity that has gained popularity in recent years, especially among photographers intrigued by the decay of the built environment.

Enthusiasts range from professionals such as Toronto's Sean Galbraith, who has parlayed his forays into high-priced fine art, to thrill-seeking amateurs who prefer a lower profile and share their work on Internet sites.

Mr. Galbraith declined to discuss the practice in an e-mail exchange yesterday, "other than to say this is a truly tragic accident and my thoughts go out to his family."

Alex, who asked that his surname be withheld, said mishaps have been rare in the three years he has been combing abandoned buildings in Southern Ontario and western New York. They are usually the result of ignorance and sometimes involve people lured to the hobby by its heightened profile in the media and on television shows like CSI and Urban Explorers, a Discovery Channel series.

"When I go into a place, I usually look to make sure that it's structurally sound," he said. "I avoid floors that have been partially knocked off, I avoid catwalks, places where there are massive holes in the floor."

He also wears safety boots with steel toes and shanks, and in some cases, a respirator mask to filter out asbestos and noxious fumes.

"I am fully trained in first aid and carry a kit with me, and have had to use it on a couple of occasions," he said, adding that he once treated another hobbyist who injured himself punching through glass.

"It's just a matter of using your head," Alex said, adding that taking a buddy along, and preferably two, is essential "so that one person can run out and make a phone call in the case that you're stuck in a place like Hearn. Cell reception is a bit spotty in there."

With four excursions into Hearn under his belt, the most recent in April, Alex said he made a point of warning his fellow enthusiasts of the dangers of their hobby when he heard about the weekend accident.

The appeal of the old generating station, mothballed in the 1980s, is simple: "It's big, it's been around for a while, and you get to see what the power stations were like when they were first built in the fifties," an era before computers when control rooms were filled with dials and buttons and gauges.

Asked how he reconciles the need to trespass to get into such sites, he said, "I don't go in with the intent to damage the property. I don't break into a building; I look for an open door, I look for a hole in the wall, an open window, something that I can just walk in. If I can't get in without walking in, I walk away."

He has been caught by on-site security guards, "and they just kick you off the property." He's never been arrested.

"The fact of the matter with trespassing is, the most you'll get is a $65 ticket, and that's only if the police can find the owner and the owner wants to pursue this. You don't get put in cuffs; you don't get jailed."

In Toronto, Alex said, Hearn has ranked alongside the Canada Malting silos at the foot of Bathurst Street and the Don Valley Brick Works as one of the top three destinations for urban explorers.

Now that there's been an accident, he expects things to change at Hearn, and if that comes at the expense of his hobby, so be it.

"Hopefully it's a wake-up call for both explorers and companies to watch themselves," he said. "I hope that they do something about Hearn; either finish the job and knock it down, or seal it up well enough that nobody gets in.
"I don't want to see other people get hurt."
Forbidden places

Urban exploration, infiltration, creeping, building hacking - whatever you call it, forays into otherwise forbidden places have become an increasingly popular, if often illicit, hobby in cities around the world, particularly since the advent of the Internet in the mid-nineties.

A Toronto man, Jeff Chapman, aka Ninjalicious, was a contemporary UE pioneer with his magazine Infiltration: the zine about going places you're not supposed to go, founded in 1996 [Mr. Chapman died in 2005 and publication has since ceased].

From photographers and graffiti artists to thrill-seekers and the simply curious, these places - some abandoned, others still active - offer the allure of the unknown, the historical, even the haunted.

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