Commentary

Facility collapse: I feared the worst

Updated: April 30, 2010, 1:24 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon was inside the Cowboys' indoor practice facility when wind gusts sent it crashing down on May 2, 2009. Here is his account of that day:

IRVING, Texas -- As rain pounded the tentlike facility, the overhead lights suddenly started swaying like massive metronomes.

I muttered something to a colleague about how much damage might be done if one of those lights came crashing to the ground, then stepped back within inches of the wall, a few yards from the door at the front of the Dallas Cowboys' indoor practice facility.

Seconds later, a series of horrifying sounds drowned out the high-decibel raindrops. We suddenly heard steel twisting and snapping and the tarpaulin fabric flapping as the building crumbled when hit by a microburst. There were panicked screams as everything came crashing down around us.

I didn't make it to the door, which couldn't be opened after a portable toilet slammed into it. The moments that followed are hazy, but I remember scrambling out of a pile of debris and people, soaking wet with a sore neck.

The next vivid image in my mind is of linebackers coach Reggie Herring screaming for somebody to call 911. I dialed as I dashed down the track toward the building, never looking back at the flattened 80-foot-tall structure.

As I caught my breath, I explained to the 911 operator that the building had collapsed in the middle of a practice. Asked whether there were any injuries, I feared the worst: "There might be people trapped in there."

I didn't keep my composure nearly as well in the next phone call, screaming several words that can't be printed here while explaining to my editor that a disaster had happened. Our coverage was far from the biggest concern. A co-worker was unaccounted for at the moment, having been trapped under the door.

After hanging up the phone, I rushed back outside, seeing that debris was spread across the two grass practice fields. The people who exited out the side doors, running across those fields, were the ones who were hurt the worst.

Several players and staff members scrambled around to find the folks who were trapped under the tarp and steel beams. Trainer's scissors were used to cut through the fabric when people were located under the debris. Several couldn't be moved until emergency personnel arrived. I'll never forget seeing director of college scouting Chris Hall in excruciating pain as he lay face down with his right arm trapped under a steel beam.

About 20 minutes later, it hit me how fortunate I was. I had trouble getting the words out while I explained to my wife what had happened and that she didn't need to worry about me.

After spending the rest of the afternoon covering the story, I stopped at the urgent-care facility in Valley Ranch to get my neck checked out. I didn't think it was a big deal, but wanted to be sure. The diagnosis: bruised and sprained, but I'd be fine within a matter of days.

As I pulled into my driveway, my cell phone rang. It was kicker David Buehler returning my call. Buehler, who was in the group that bolted out the side doors, had been released from the hospital after suffering a concussion and a gash on his right knee that needed three stitches.

"My initial thought was: How many people are dead in this?" Buehler said, the only public comments made by a player. "I thought I was the lucky one."

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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