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Author: Subject: Life after detonation
Yamato71
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sad.gif posted on 30-11-2012 at 15:07
Life after detonation


First, the introductions.

I am a 59 year old Engineer and organic chemist. I hold a federal explosives permit and am licensed to possess, handle, synthesize and use high explosives. I only mention that so as to stress the point that if what happened to me could happen to me,then it could happen to anybody.

In the early morning hours of November 3rd, 2010, I attempted to synthesize erythritol tetranitrate (ETN), using a procedure I had come across here and other explosives websites. I had performed this synthesis dozens of times before without incident, until that Wednesday morning. I was preparing for a WWII reenactment that was scheduled for the next weekend at the local Army post, a gig that I had done 3 or 4 times a year for the past 3 years.

The ETN was needed for the electric squibs that I used to detonate half-pound buried Tannerite charges that were used to simulate artillery impacts. I began using electric blasting caps, which proved expensive and impractical since I had no legal way to store the caps where I needed to use them. Instead, I invented a tiny electric match that was dipped in several layers of chemicals, including ETN. When hit with a current, the squib made a small pop, no louder than a firecracker, but was energetic enough to fire the Tannerite.

Anyway, back to Wednesday morning, I chose to nitrate the erythritol using sulfuric acid and ammonium nitrate since I was out of white fuming nitric acid. This necessitated a recrystallization from hot methanol, which I proceeded to do in a large beaker on a radiant cooktop. I grabbed a 1L beaker and brought about 500 ml of MEOH to a low boil while dissolving 50 grams of crude brown ETN into the hot alcohol.

As I turned around to put up the container of dirty ETN, I heard a sound that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It was a loud TICK!, the sound of cracking glass, followed less than a second later by an even louder one. The beaker was cracking from the heat of the hotplate, and the second crack had opened a crack on the bottom of the beaker. As I watched, the MEOH/ETN solution flowed onto the hot surface. Before I could react, the leading edge of the pool of solution flashed to dryness and the precipitated ETN deflagrated, igniting the MEOH/ETN in the beaker. I now had a roaring fire in the stovetop and no good options open to me. For about 3 seconds, I did the singularly most stupid thing I have ever done in my 6 decades on this planet. I leaned in close and tried to BLOW OUT THE FIRE! The sharp crack of another glass fracture brought me out of suicide mode. It also made me pull my head back, which saved my life. What I should have done right then was drop to the floor and cover my ears. I'd give my left nut to be able to time travel back 2 years and do that. What I actually did was try to shove the burning beaker into the sink and drown the fire with water. As I reached for the beaker with both hands, my life was changed forever.

I barely remember the moment of detonation, aside from the curious sensation of electricity coursing through my hands. The actual explosion didn't seem as loud as it should have been, but having both eardrums blown out will do that. I remember standing there for a few seconds taking mental stock of my situation, not really sure of what had just happened. As what was left of my hearing began to come back, I began to hear a strange sound that reminded me of the sound that water from a hose makes when the stream hits dry concrete, sort of a splopping sound. I raised my left arm and discovered the source of the strange sound. Arching up from the stump of my left wrist was a half-inch wide torrent of bright red arterial blood that was splashing on the floor and had already pooled for a yard around my feet.

Instinctively, I tried to clamp off the blood flow with my right hand, but the mass of loose bones and tattered pink and yellow tissue that was attached to my right wrist was no longer a functioning hand. It had just begun to sink in that I had just blown off both of my hands when I heard my wife screaming from the bedroom. Above all else, I couldn't let her see my hands. I made a run for a downstairs bathroom and blocked the door closed with my body. By this time I was beginning to feel the effects of blood loss. It was also at this time that my nervous system began to regain function. That's when the pain started. Now we were both screaming. I managed to tell her to call 911 and that my blood type was A+. I had to staunch the bleeding, or I wouldn't live long enough for the EMT's to arrive. With no hands, that would be tough. I managed to pull several towels down from a shelf, cross my arms in front of my chest and lay face-down on the pile of towels. It must have worked because I made it to the hospital. I never lost consciousness and remember most of the ambulance ride. The last thing I remember was the EMT briefing the surgeon "traumatic bilateral amputation of the hands". I awoke sometime a day or two later to the sight of the bandaged stump where my left hand had been. I then looked to my right, expecting to see the same thing. What I saw instead was a miracle. Instead if a slim tapered bandage, my right arm terminated into a huge bulbous blood-soaked bandage. Somehow, the surgeon managed to find most of the pieces of my right hand and put them back together into something resembling a hand.

Fifteen surgeries later, I'm still getting my life back together. I wear a prosthetic left hand, actually a steel hook. I lost the tips of two fingers on my right hand. I sustained a degloving injury to my right thumb, nothing but bone and tendon was left. I was given two options, amputation or lengthy painful reconstruction. I chose the latter. In order to regrow tissue on my thumb, it was implanted into my abdomen for 2 months. After that delightful time in my life, I endured a dozen more surgeries to carve that mass into a useful thumb.

My life will never be the same. Please think of my accident while you make the energetic materials listed here. I'm not going to tell you not to experiment with them, I'm just asking you to be careful when doing so. I don't want anybody's wife to be handed their husband's wedding ring after a fireman found it embedded in the ceiling. How does one wrap their head around something like that?

BTW, the cause of the accident turned out to be the Chinese knockoff beaker that I bought at a kitchen store earlier that year. The "Pyrex" logo on another one bought at the same time, on closer inspection, read "Pyrox", with a tiny "made in China" text at the bottom. Instead of being made with Pyrex borosilicate glass, it was cheap soda-lime glass that couldn't stand up to heating. I never noticed the difference.

Please be careful.


[Edited on 1-12-2012 by Yamato71]
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gutter_ca
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[*] posted on 30-11-2012 at 16:24


Um, what?



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BromicAcid
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[*] posted on 30-11-2012 at 17:36


Thank you for presenting what happened to you in such a step by step manner. Yes, it was stupid to try and blow out the fire, but in the midst of what was happening I might have done the same. The thought processes that occur when things start to go wrong happen at a phenomenally fast rate. In Andrew Dequasie's book "The Green Flame" there is an incident involving an explosion and he describes the phenomenon thusly:

Quote:
To this day, I probably would not understand what panic is if I had not experienced it in that moment. I remain forever fascinated by the sensation. Some part of my mind that I didn't know existed took immediate command. This part of the mind operates in what I regard as "blink think". It isn't necessarily right or logical, but it is incredibly fast and decisive. Because it is fast, other things that are happening swiftly seem almost to be happening in slow motion.


I work with pyrophorics now, before that inhalation poisons, before that unknown hazardous waste. The degree of danger that we are in on a daily basis is only mitigated by our own individual expertise and protective controls that are put in place. But I think it's necessary sometimes to evaluate given stores like you have shared with us, the potential for danger that could possibly exist if we become too complacent.

You yourself didn't know about the true identity of your glassware but there are threads on this forum regarding using cheaper knock-off glassware. Few people however think of glassware as a safety device, something to keep the nasties on one side and everything else on the other. If there is one area you don't want to skimp, it is on safety especially considering the tortures that we put glassware through on a regular basis. In essence, we trust it with our lives.

Thank you again for sharing, and here is wishing you the best in your continued recovery from all of us.




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[*] posted on 30-11-2012 at 18:03


Thank you for sharing this experience and hopefully reminding those who work with energetics of just how fragile we are.

Best of luck in your recovery, and I am very sorry to hear about your experience.
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[*] posted on 30-11-2012 at 19:18


Your calamity punctuates that one's normal reaction to a jarring situation
can be entirely inappropriate. In your mind at that moment , this was to
you a commonplace fire. Any material that contains it's own oxygen
cannot be extinguished. In retrospect with time to appraise that moment
you are aware the only thing you could have done was to - R U N !

The object lesson to all is that the risks in activities that involve inherent
dangers , can be minimized , but never completely reduced to zero.
Although very unusual , even someone with knowledge and experience
can be fated misfortune. This serves as an alert to those who handle
explosive materials and do not give it due caution. The first thing always
to consider before beginning anything having a potential for injury is to
plan and have in mind the action to take when things go unexpectedly
wrong. In the long term it is quite likely to occur , no matter how careful
one is.

http://www.sciencemadness.org/talk/viewthread.php?tid=16612

http://www.sciencemadness.org/talk/viewthread.php?tid=15150&...

http://www.sciencemadness.org/talk/viewthread.php?tid=15150&...

.

[Edited on 1-12-2012 by franklyn]
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[*] posted on 30-11-2012 at 19:47


I'm just glad you survived at all!

(Also, I wouldn't be surprised if "Pyrox" got a call from the local law enforcement or some such.)

Thanks for sharing this, and I really do hope your life keeps on becoming better.
I've been extraordinarily lucky while handling such things as flooding my garage with chlorine vapor, among other things. (Unfortunately, my garage has not been so lucky.)
The amount of times I could've died while doing stupid things is phenomenally high, and it gives me a new perspective on life sometimes.
Not that I should just not take any danger, but that I should be more careful with the known dangers I'm taking, and try to cover the potential unknown ones. I don't always do this, but whenever I'm doing something serious, I generally take as many precautions as I deem necessary.
Which is still too little.

My thoughts are a bit jumbled, I know, but I hope everyone understood.




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[*] posted on 30-11-2012 at 19:50


I did a lot of small things wrong, including working at 4am while I was dead tired. Just as is the case for any disaster, it was a series of mistakes, poor decision making and just blind dumb luck that bit me in the ass. Removal of any one of these factors would probably have averted this accident.

I can't undo what happened, so the only logical move is to share the experience with everyone here in the hopes that I can shed a little light on the dark side of our hobby. I'm not going to claim that if, by sharing my story, I can prevent one maiming, that it would have been worth it. That's just total crap. Saving an entire busload of nuns from driving over a cliff wouldn't even the score. Losing both hands to an explosion is one of the most horrifying experiences one can experience. Trust me. If you don't want to go through life like me, don't get careless and overconfident like I did. Thus endeth the lesson.

BTW, I've got to hand it to this group. The quality of writing I've read here is outstanding. Thank for your expression of support, it is greatly appreciated.


[Edited on 1-12-2012 by Yamato71]
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[*] posted on 30-11-2012 at 21:11


I don't think any of us can understand what kind of anguish an accident like this can cause, but I'd like to give you my sincerest thanks for telling us how it was for you.

Thank you for sharing your story.
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[*] posted on 1-12-2012 at 05:27


Quote:
BTW, I've got to hand it to this group. The quality of writing I've read here is outstanding.

Your chillingly well put account is probably the most important message posted here.
Many thanks, and we all wish you the best . . .


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[*] posted on 1-12-2012 at 07:39


Quote: Originally posted by Yamato71  
the cause of the accident turned out to be the Chinese knockoff beaker that I bought at a kitchen store earlier that year.
The most important thing I take away from this story is the importance of planning for single-point failure. You had one failure of a beaker, and almost immediately everything went to hell. Although the quality of the glass was indeed poor, making such failure more likely, all glass can fail in such ways for reasons that may only be now after the fact, if that. In your situation, and in retrospect, the danger could have been mitigated by using a beaker-within-beaker arrangement, with some kind of heat transfer medium between them.

The lesson should be general, though. One that strikes me as deserving special attention is the use of fume hoods. If a fume hood is operating over a reaction in a sealed system, it's acting as a safety device. In order to release fumes from the reaction, the system seal has to break and the fume hood has to fail, two points of failure. On the other hand, if the fume hood is used to continuously evacuate fumes from an open reaction, it is no longer acting primarily as a safety device but instead has become part of the experimental apparatus. The most likely way that a fume hood could fail would be power loss. If the fan stops, what happens to the reaction? It's something that should be considered in advance. Another good practice in such situation is to have the blower on an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Even if you only have four minutes of reserve power, that should be enough time to make the reaction safe, if you've planned how to do that in advance.
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[*] posted on 1-12-2012 at 10:43


watson, or just use water bath...

I remember once - neating lead nitrate and sulphuric acid to get c.HNO3 and the jar (jam jar with screw cap) broke - but it was in the water bath and nothing happened except the batch was ruined...

Anyway, accidents can happen from 1000 sources and thinking that you are immune is not wise...




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[*] posted on 1-12-2012 at 15:24


Well, I don't know what to say. This post made me nostalgic. I had any accident as well but nearly not as bad as yours.

Did these things changed your social life?

Btw, can you post some pictures?

Thank you for sharing your accident, it might save someone's life.

[Edited on 1-12-2012 by Phantom]




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[*] posted on 2-12-2012 at 15:37


Thanks for sharing your story. I have stickied it so others will see it. Wishing you all the best in recovery.

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[*] posted on 2-12-2012 at 17:00


Sorry guys, but I really don't want to see my photos show up on any of the gore sites on the net. Once you post something like that on the internet, it's forever, and these photos are intensely personal to me. I can however, describe them for you. Obviously, I wasn't the one taking photos, but they were taken at the hospital and in my home some hours after the accident. I can't even bring myself to look at them 2 years later without getting bummed out. Trust me, they aren't pretty.

The photo of my left hand looks something like a string mop saturated with tomato sauce and hanging straight down. A jagged stump of bone stuck out of my wrist and a few of the metacarpal bones were protruding from the tattered red, white and yellow tissue. My chest, arms and throat were extensively peppered with shrapnel, mostly glass, from the beaker and stove top. Glass is still working its way out of my body and probably will for the rest of my life. Miraculously, my face and eyes were almost untouched by the blast. Only two small shrapnel wounds were visible along my jaw line. When they were probed, the surgeon removed the two pieces of shrapnel. Both were pieces of bone from my left hand. Both eardrums were ruptured, but so far only one has healed, meaning at least one more surgery is in my future.

The kitchen had all the windows blown out and strings of bloody tissue were splattered over the ceiling and walls. Arterial spray covered the floor, appliances and the carpet all the way to the downstairs bathroom. I lost so much blood in the bathroom waiting on the EMT's that it flowed back under the door and into the hallway, where it was tracked all over the house by all the cops and firemen. In one photo, a portion of my left ring finger, complete with my wedding band, can be seen embedded in the ceiling above the kitchen stove.

I wouldn't say that my social life suffered. If anything, this episode cemented my relationships. If it weren't for the emotional and physical support given to me in the weeks and months after the accident, I'm sure that I would probably would not have survived, or even wanted to. I have worked as a broadcast engineer for nearly 40 years and I worked extensively with my hands every day. For the first 2 months, my right thumb was surgically embedded into my abdomen, so I didn't have the use of either hand. Trust me, having to rely on somebody else to wipe your ass for you is about as demeaning and depressing as it gets. The only positive thing about being trussed up like that was that it made it damn near impossible to off myself just when the urge to do so was strongest.

It's now been 2 years and I'm adapting slowly to the loss of my hands. I'm still in a great deal of pain, phantom pain in my missing left hand and very real pain in my mangled right hand. The pain management doctor helps, but having to depend on narcotics for temporary relief isn't something that I relish doing, but without them life would not be worth living.

Let's not even bring up the subject of PTSD
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[*] posted on 2-12-2012 at 17:12


Thanks for the sticky, Davster. I hope some good comes of it.
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[*] posted on 2-12-2012 at 18:15


At the risk of being flippant, I have to ask about non-medical repercussions of this.

I can confirm that once things go wrong, it's hard to stop yourself from making things worse. A simple flaming toluene/counter incident turned into a flaming hand/everything incident. The thinking part of your brain is shut off as the primal part takes control.




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[*] posted on 2-12-2012 at 18:38


What non-medical repercussions would you like to know about?
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[*] posted on 2-12-2012 at 18:57


I have been lurking on this forum for quite a while, yesterday saw this topic. I wanted to join but, for some reason this site was down or something. Anyways I joined about 2 or 3 minutes ago. I had my own run in when I was younger and really stupid with energetics. I do not want to go into detail but I will say that. The left hand is missing distil section of some of the fingers (thumb, index, and middle). After that run in I put down energetics for about one month I was not even full healed still had bandages on my hand. I was back into energetics. My reasoning was that I was tired and i did so many things wrong and that if I thought through what I did with energetics I would not get hurt again. ( I did not get hurt again). So that really showed I had a love for them up till yesterday I though I would not stop. When I saw this topic it cemented a lot a realities in my head. (when I found this topic I was actuality was researching cheddites) (FYI I love electrochemistry) I knew a way that should have prevented this incident that no one brought up. If you were to preheat your solvent and then add you compound (ETN can take the thermal shock) then this would never have had happened. With that being said would it have slipped my mind? YES if I did it often it would have and the same thing would have happened to me. So with that once I see the fire and the beaker is broken would I have put my head over to blow it out? I would like to say no but deep down inside I would think that I would. Would I have done every thing that you did that caused this to happen? YES. So this really connected with me and made me stop this dangerous hobby even more so then seeing my own hand partially blown off. I still have a love for chemistry in general but I had the most interest in energetics. Seeing my hand dismembered and feeling that tingling sensation in your hand as a ER doc pulls on a splintered piece of you thumb bone still attached to you hand. Even that did not do what reading this post did. I am glad that you posted this as you most likely saved me along with many others from having a similar fate. I have found my self in a bunch of similar situations and seen others in these life and death this s**t is going out of hand quick people NEVER rise the the occasion the best they do is fall to the level of their training but often times we fall to the level of our instincts. I know this is a long post and I have no intent to derail but I though I needed to get this out.
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[*] posted on 2-12-2012 at 22:07


Wow. Absolutely chilling. Thank you for posting your tale.

I work with high power electronics every day. It's very easy to wave your hands around cold copper bus bars and not think anything of it, just as it can be easy to handle just another beaker of clear liquid.

I have to remind myself, every time I'm working around high voltage, of what a real arc flash looks like. I've seen the videos and I hope not to recreate one in person.

Arc flash is an analogous phenomenon, with less peak power (it can cause covers to blow off, but nothing like a detonation), longer duration and much higher temperatures. A locker-sized cabinet with sundry components inside can turn its entire air space into a cloud of plasma in under a milisecond. The bodily hazards of this business are typically not so much skeletal as explosives are, but can be just as disfiguring. Without approved protective gear, an arc flash will burn away skin. Direct contact with live electricity, of course, has the further hazard of electrocution, which causes heart fibrillation and internal burns.

We live in a dangerous world. It takes a wise man to navigate those hazards.

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[*] posted on 3-12-2012 at 00:59


Wow. Sorry about your lab gone wrong.
But thank you for enlightening us with your experience. Hopefully this or anything like it never happens again to any one of us.
For this very reason ... I don't by my shit online.
It's one thing if you paid too much for a Rolox watch .... It's definitely very expensive if your equipment lets you down.
I am very sorry for you experience.




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[*] posted on 3-12-2012 at 09:15


A timely warning. The lesson? Thoroughly test the actual glass you'll be using. Burn it in. Do do that w/ water. Also good Pyrex is properly ahneeled, and should survive the stress of a red hot source with no water inside it, just dry, then directly into an ice bath. Now, I'm not saying it's good practice, but doing this a couple times successfully, ruggedizes the Pyrex even more. The lesson then is to be comfortable with the glassware you are using. Unfortunately, Pyrex randomly cracks as well, but usually after 2-300 cycles.
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[*] posted on 3-12-2012 at 10:37


What's with that focus on the quality of the glassware? Hot plate and that amounts of energetic material is dangerous, specially ETN. I don't have much experience with ETN, but 50g in 500ml seems quite inert to me. Now saturated ETN solution on a hot plate with cracking beaker is a horrifying thing for the people with experience with ETN. Do I lack of imagination or EGDN is much more forgiving? /I rely on that/
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[*] posted on 3-12-2012 at 16:56


Personally I have never worked with any explosives other than some Bp based compositions. I do not plan on ever making any primarys or any self oxidizing explosives that will detonate w/o confinement.

I know now know that I should check my beakers. Especially when using a flammable or combustible solvent.

I agree with Ral123 1g per 10ml does not seem explosive. The hot plate must have been pretty hot to ignite the methanol, I guess that all the methanol flash vaporized and the ETN precipitated then exploded.

I am sorry that such an accident occurred all blamed on Chinese glass.




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[*] posted on 3-12-2012 at 17:37


This is the reason I stay away from energetics as well as strong poisons. Its like 12AX7 was talking about. I use to play with a lot of electricity as a kid making Tesla coils and TEA lasers and there was always the ever present danger knowing that if I am not careful I could get seriously zapped or killed, however it seemed as though no matter how cautious I was, using insulated gloves keeping one hand behind my back ect... I would eventually get zapped sooner or later at the very least once every six months.

When it comes to energetics that ever possible accidental "zap" could kill one or have life long consequences all to easy. I hope all that come here reading this thread think about this before making energetics or psychoactive substances for that matter because sooner or later you will get zapped no matter how cautious and its a matter of pre-planning that determines how detrimental that zap turns out to be. For instance if I was not in the total habit of working with one hand behind my back when playing with high voltage there is good odds I would not be here today.





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[*] posted on 3-12-2012 at 21:44


The hot plate didn't ignite the methanol, the first flash of ETN did.
Only accidental explosions I've had were micro amounts of hmtd popping under my feet while I walk around. IMO explosives can be much safer hobby then for example skiing with enough respect to safety and discipline. I don't see what can go wrong with for example TNP synth. /except a big mess in the lab/ Make TNP booster and make a detonator that is inserted by a spring into the booster after 2/3 of the fuse is burned.
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