Vanessa Skarski’s Account of Her Father’s Death on a Small Wind Turbine

By Paul Gipe

October 2, 2006

Robert Skarski died in 1993 while installing a small wind turbine at his Illinois home. He was killed when the tower he was on buckled and fell to the ground. Below is an account of how his accident affected his daughter Vanessa who was 12 at the time. Vanessa has granted permission to publish this account to remind those who work with wind energy that fatal accidents leave lasting scars on those left behind.–Paul Gipe

Hi there Mr. Gipe.

I appreciate you sending me what you did write, and believe it or not, it did help. For years I tried to find someone to blame for him dying, he was depressed so he did it on purpose, it was my step mother’s idea, it was her fault, the tower was defective, it was their fault, and now I read your article on Winches. I suppose maybe a lot of those factors had something to do with his death. I still don’t know. But I do understand at this junction in my life that the bottom line is that he was careless.

I was 12 when this happened. We had a log home out in Frankfort IL, on 16.4 acres of land. My father and his second wife were “naturalists”. Lots of trees, all natural food, well water, propane, and wind energy. Very environment friendly. Their whole purpose for having the two wind generators was to try to avoid creating their own pollution by using Commonwealth Edison (the local electric company). Granted, it was a good idea, but it was a lot of maintence.

Previous to my father’s accident, we had the second wind tower put in, along with the things that hold the guide wires at the bottom. After it was installed and it set in the concrete (so on and so forth) my father and I climbed up to the top in the middle of December, in the snow to attach the guide wires to the top of the tower. He was going to have someone come out and help him attach it to the bottom, but that never happened.

On January 1, 1993, him and his friend went outside to install the generator itself. Now, my memory is a little hazy here, I don’t remember if that was a new one for that tower, or if we had one and it broke and needed to be replaced, but either way, they were installing the generator that afternoon. He had a pulley system rigged up, one end attached to the generator, the other end attached to the back of his truck or tractor (again, little details are hazy now). I was inside since there was nothing to do outside, my dad wouldn’t let me help, he was afraid I would get hurt. (Kind of ironic now, isn’t it)

About a half an hour into the installation, I hear screams of “Call 911”. My step mother ran into the house, called 911, I ran outside looking for my dad. What I found was this man of 6’6″ 250+ pounds, laying completely motionless on the ground. He looked so small and fragile, just laying there about 10 or 15 feet away from the tower. Ambulance came, took him away, and at 6:04 pm on January 1, 1993, he was pronounced dead at Olympia Fields Osteopathic Hospital. I found out an hour later. My whole life fell apart, and now at 27 years old, I am finally putting the pieces back together.

I remember strange details about that day, what I was wearing, what was on TV, but there are some I always remembered that make me question what was really going on.

My father took risks, but this was odd. Guide wires were not attached, and his safety belt was on, but that was not attached either. He never went up without one of those on and hooked to the tower right. Maybe the tower was defective, maybe it would have collapsed anyway, but maybe he could have lived too.

Now that I know how your supposed to do that, I am still angry, but I understand a little better. I just want to make sure that people that think that they can do things their way because it is easier, more cost effective, or because they don’t have enough education/knowledge or training on how to do this properly understand what the consequences of their decisions can be.

Here I am almost 14 years later, still battling the demons of my father’s death, trying to raise a family of my own. To anyone that thinks that this won’t happen to them, it was just a freak accident, go ahead and keep believing that. Let some of your family members read this and see what they think.

Mr. Gipe, I appreciate you helping me out with this. This was a painful experience for me, but it is getting easier the more I know. I was just a kid, and didn’t understand anything except that my daddy was gone and never coming back. I understand a little bit more today because of that little article that my father was mentioned in. Thank you so much. You have no idea how much that meant to me. Please, let your readers know about this so that it doesn’t happen to someone else and their family.

Vannessa (Skarski) Marshall

September 2, 2006