Earlier this month, a tipster alerted a UK-based consumer blog that used Petzl Aspir (C24) climbing harnesses were being resold on eBay after potentially fatal modifications. The harnesses had been destroyed and then crudely stitched back together at the hip belts or leg loops, making it appear that the gear was safe to use.
The harnesses were listed for sale by a seller named “Surplusandlost online” for $19. The seller even acknowledged the harnesses had been “cut, repaired, and tested.” This week, “Surplusandlost online” issued a recall of the harnesses and offered consumers full refunds. An email to a representative for the seller was not returned.
Petzl has a lot of questions, including how, where, and by whom the harnesses were re-stitched and subsequently resold. The company also doesn't know how many of the compromised harnesses might still be on the market, says Petzl America Technical Director Rick Vance. At least 100 have been recovered, but that number continues to rise. “At the moment, these appear to be from one institutional user, like a climbing gym, or we think it may have been a military center or something like that, which had a large number of them,” says Vance. “We’re still trying to determine their exact path from the original user to being modified to being listed on eBay.”
Petzl, a French company, is working with French law enforcement, but it remains unclear what, if any, charges might be brought should they determine who altered the gear. Vance doesn’t believe the act was malicious. “It’s more likely somebody who doesn’t understand the importance of this equipment and was just trying to make a buck,” says Vance. “Maybe they were willfully ignorant, but we don’t have anything that tells us they were actively trying to get someone hurt.”
Greg Barnes, director of the American Safe Climbing Association, said he had never heard of anything like the Petzl harness case. Five years ago, online retailers in Asia were selling counterfeit Petzl carabiners, which presented similar dangers, but not the same kind of manipulation.
According to Vance, each harness should have a serial number that allows Petzl to trace the original point of sale. That part of the investigation is ongoing, he says. “This is a slap in the face that we take personally. It appears that somebody was trying to do the right thing by taking these products out of service and making them unusable, and somebody else turns right back around and potentially puts a customer in a dangerous situation...Used personal protective equipment should always be looked at as suspect.”
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