After 20 years, director Charlie Minn will shine a new light on the Bonfire collapse with his documentary, “The 13th Man.”
The film is focused on the final survivor of the collapse, John Comstock, Class of 2010, and his experience being trapped beneath the logs for over seven hours. On Monday, Oct. 14, Minn and Comstock spoke in four classes at A&M and one class at Blinn about the upcoming release. From his plans to pull an all-nighter for exams to the firemen that kept him conscious till his rescue, Comstock described the day of Nov. 18, 1999 in detail. The movie will arrive in Premiere Cinema theaters in Bryan on Nov. 7 and opens in 20 theaters across Texas on Nov. 15.
The guest lectures mark Comstock’s first public appearance at A&M since he received his Aggie Ring. He said he agreed to be the focus of the documentary to honor the memory of the Bonfire tradition.
“With the 20 year anniversary, it was important to me,” Comstock said. “Over the years the story has kind of faded. The motto of the collapse was always ‘we remember’ and so I think with the documentary it was important to put myself out there again.”
The first generation Aggie was a freshmen living in Moses Hall when one of the crew chiefs came by to invite Comstock to the first cut, which became one of many late nights and early mornings he would give up to help create the Bonfire. Comstock attended every cut and stack day, hence he couldn’t miss working on the third tier of the stacks on Nov. 18 1999.
As the structure collapsed, Comstock held onto the logs and landed in a position that allowed his arm to stick out. Comstock was able to catch the attention of a bystander by moving his hand in the dirt. Emergency response teams provided him with fluids through IV, but could do little else.
“Because of my location, they couldn’t extract me immediately,” Comstock said. “They had to get everybody out below me before they could start working on the logs around me. The way everything was wired in, every log was ultimately tied into another log.”
Comstock now works for Texas A&M Systems as a financial advisor and travels throughout the United States to speak about his experience. Comstock said that an interaction he had with another patient at the hospital that had suffered severe burns from a transistor explosion inspired him to push through the multiple surgeries and lengthy rehabilitation.
“He saw my story and when I came out of my room for the first time—he was my neighbor at Zale Lipshy—and he said, ‘Hang in there John,’” Comstock said. “I was just blown away by that. I was always amazed that somebody in such an unfortunate position was giving me words of encouragement.”
Minn was a guest speaker at A&M in 2011 and 2012 when the history of Bonfire was first brought to his attention. It wouldn’t be until several years later that he would reach out to Comstock to bring the documentary to life.
“I think a documentary is an excellent way to bring the attention back to the fallen Aggies and we obviously have a lot of them; with 12 dead and 27 injured and whole community and university shattered,” Minn said.
As for the purpose of the film, Minn said his focus was to re-introduce Bonfire’s history to the new generation of Aggies and to keep its legacy alive among former students.
“Today when I landed in the airport I was next to a lady with an A&M shirt on and I said, ‘Hey, have you heard about Bonfire?’ and she said no,” Minn said. “That to me was telling— I think it has faded. Any story fades over 20 years.”