What’s the most thrilling experience you can think of? For some people, it’s the thought of boarding an aeroplane, flying high into the sky, flinging themselves out of the plane, and hurtling toward the ground with only a parachute to prevent certain death.
Is skydiving one of the items on your bucket list? Or would you rather keep your feet planted firmly on the ground? Although it might seem like skydiving would be enough adrenaline rush for anyone, some people searched for — and found! — an even bigger thrill.
In the mid-1970s, jumps were made from the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado and the World Trade Center Towers in New York. In 1978, filmmaker Carl Boenish, Jr., his wife, Jean, and friends Phil Smith and Phil Mayfield climbed to the top of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. They then ran to the edge and flung themselves off the top, releasing a ram-air parachute a few seconds later to slow their descent.
They invented a new sport called BASE jumping, like skydiving without the aeroplane. BASE jumping consists of parachuting from fixed objects. The acronym BASE comes from the four main categories of things thrill-seekers jump from: Buildings, Antennas, Spans (bridges), and Earth (cliffs, for example).
BASE jumping is considered an extreme sport because it is perilous. To date, over 300 BASE jumpers have died as a result of accidents that occurred during BASE jump attempts. Regular skydiving is much safer than BASE jumping.
BASE jumpers must overcome two significant obstacles that skydivers don’t face: low altitude and proximity to the object they’re jumping from. Skydivers usually deploy their parachutes at about 2,000 feet in elevation. BASE jumpers, however, often jump from objects well under 2,000 feet tall.
This means BASE jumpers must open their parachutes very quickly after they jump, and there isn’t much time to deal with any problems that might arise. Fortunately, BASE jumpers can use modern, rectangular ram-air parachutes that give them greater control over their descent. These custom parachutes can cost $1,500 or more.
In the early years of BASE jumping, fatalities were pretty consistent at about five per year. However, that number began to rise in the early 2000s, introducing a new piece of speciality gear: the wingsuit.
Developed in the mid-1990s by French skydiver and BASE jumper Patrick de Gayardon, the wingsuit features extra material that captures air and adds surface area to the body. A wingsuit allows a jumper to glide through the air a bit like a flying squirrel.
Felix Baumgartner has set many world records for his stunning feats and is one of the most famous names in modern-day base jumping. The Austrian daredevil is perhaps best known for leading the Red Bull Stratos Project, where he jumped from the stratosphere via a helium balloon.
When used during BASE jumping, wingsuits allow jumpers to engage in “proximity flying,” which means flying close to objects, like trees, buildings, cliffs, etc. Jumpers wearing wingsuits can approach speeds of 140 miles per hour before launching their parachutes to make a safe landing.
Proximity flying with wingsuits has added an extra layer of extreme danger to the already-dangerous sport of BASE jumping. Typically, BASE jumpers will begin by becoming expert skydivers before moving on the BASE jumping.
After becoming an expert BASE jumper, they will go back to skydiving to learn how to glide in a wingsuit. Only after mastering the wingsuit in the skydiving context should a jumper then attempt proximity flying during a BASE jump.
Unfortunately, too many people are taking shortcuts. Instead of slowly putting in the hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to become an expert, they gain just a bit of experience and then try to tackle proximity flying during a BASE jump.
The result has been disastrous. Of the more than 300 people who have died during BASE jumps, more than 260 have occurred since 2000, and the overwhelming majority of those fatalities have been attributed to wingsuit.
Credit Author: Kloe Wonders