‘The 13th Man’ revisits 1999 Texas A&M bonfire collapse

Last survivor pulled from pile after 7 1/2 hours

A new documentary, “The 13th Man,” will be released Friday in advance of the 20th anniversary of the Texas A&M bonfire collapse on Nov. 18.

SAN ANTONIO – A new documentary, “The 13th Man,” will be released Friday in advance of the 20th anniversary of the Texas A&M bonfire collapse on Nov. 18.

"This is one of the most significant news stories in Texas history," said director and filmmaker Charlie Minn. "I don't think only Aggies should see the movie."

The title is based on Texas A&M’s longstanding “12th Man” football tradition.

Minn said ironically, 12 students died that night in College Station in addition to 27 injured.

Minn said John Comstock could have been the 13th fatality, but instead became the last survivor pulled from the pile after seven and a half hours.

Now a financial specialist for the Texas A&M System, Comstock was a freshman from Dallas helping to build the tower of logs for another of the school's cherished traditions, Aggie Bonfire.

Comstock said he was on the fourth tier, about 45 feet up, when "the stack swayed a little bit and then the whole structure went down."

Comstock said he only had time to grab a hold of the logs in front of him.

"All of the logs were kind of connected by wires. It was like a giant game of pickup sticks," he said.

Fearing there could be a further collapse, Comstock had to wait, but he said emergency medical technicians were able to give him an IV and oxygen through a small gap in the logs.

Comstock, now in a wheelchair, would lose his left leg and remains unable to use his right hand.

He said it's been "a very long road" since that night, but Comstock eventually regained his independence. Now a husband and father, Comstock finally graduated from A&M in 2010.

"I definitely have the persistence and the tenacity, as some people would say," he said.

Comstock said he agreed to help Minn with the documentary, in part, to remind students today, "what an important tradition it was for us and how much it meant to us."

But Comstock said he primarily wanted to honor those who died that night and perhaps inspire others with struggles similar to his.

Comstock said he tries to attend the bonfires that are now held off campus because even now, "It's one of my favorite traditions."

“I know they build it a lot safer today, but it’s still a dangerous thing,” Comstock said. “I don’t want somebody to go through what I went through.”

About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.