After two BASE jumpers die after apparently striking a rocky outcrop in Yosemite, Jonny Cooper reports that the extreme adventure sport is every bit as risky as it sounds
Dean Potter, 43, and Graham Hunt, 29, jumped from a spot called Taft Point 3,000ft above the valley floor late on Saturday. Both men were wearing specially designed ‘wingsuit’ flying equipment, which they intended to use to clear an outcrop on the cliff face.
They were found by a search and rescue team on Sunday. Neither of the men had appeared to deploy their parachutes.
Aside from BASE jumping, Dean Potter was a recognised ‘slackliner’. Here he can be seen traversing a slackline 1,800m above sea level without a safety harness (Photos: Rex)
The deaths are the latest in a line of tragedies to blight BASE jumping. One unofficial list counts 254 deaths between 1981 and 2015 – and that doesn’t include deaths that have resulted from wingsuit flying, such as Potter and Hunt.
While BASE jumping sees participants leap from a cliff, bridge or even skyscraper and quickly deploy their parachutes before reaching the ground, wingsuit flyers – a subsection of BASE jumpers – don a winged suit that allows them to control their movement and swoop like a bird of prey, reaching speeds of up to 200mph in the process.
Only last year, three leading lights of wingsuit flying died after jumping from a helicopter over Lütschental in Switzerland. In 2013, stuntman Mark Sutton, who skydived into the Olympic opening ceremony at the start of London 2012, was killed after crashing into a ridge near Martigny at the Swiss-French border.
So just how dangerous is BASE jumping?
While there is little by way of official research into the subject, the studies that do exist suggest the pursuit is the most life-endangering of all the popular adventure sports.
In a report published in 2007, Soreide et al studied the results of 20,850 BASE jumps between 1995 to 2005 at the Kjerag Massif in Norway. During the 11-year period, they found there had been 82 nonfatal accidents (1 in every 254 jumps) and 9 fatal accidents (1 in every 2,317 jumps).
In comparison, traditional skydiving carries a death rate of one in every 101,083 jumps, according to data compiled by the United States Parachute Association.
Other extreme or adventure sports carry markedly lower risks, such as scuba diving (one death in every 200,000 dives), rock climbing (one in every 320,000 climbs) and skiing (one in every 1,556,757 visits).
If one death in every 2,317 jumps sounds high, BASE jumping is even scarier when you consider the annual fatality risk per person. According to a 2008 study in Sweden, the rate in 2002 stood at one fatality per 60 participants.
Frode Johannessen and Ronny Risvik take off from as part of the World Base Race in 2012 (Photo: Caters News)
The findings of the Norwegian study is echoed by research conducted five years later. Dr Omer Mei-Dan, an Israeli BASE jumper, stuntman and orthopaedic surgeon, conducted a study of his peers to calculate the frequency with which they had experienced life-threatening episodes during jumps.
72 pc of jumpers “had witnessed death or serious injury of other participants in the sport, 43 percent [of] jumpers had suffered a signiﬁcant BASE jump injury, and 76 percent had at least one ‘near miss’ incident (an incident which would most probably result in serious injury or fatality but was avoided),” Dr Mei-Dan wrote in his textbook Adventure and Extreme Sports Injuries.
The surgeon himself is a good case study for the reasons why BASE jumpers continue to pursue their sport despite the alarming risks they face. Last month, in an interview with Jewish news source JTA, Dr. Mei-Dan admitted that he gets a kick out of jumping and its associated risk.
“I like being afraid, I like the fear, I enjoy it,” he said. “In BASE jumping, every small thing dictates life or death. It makes me feel vibrant. Extreme sports athletes have the ability to sustain, cope with and enjoy the amount of stress other people would define as bad experiences.”
He also revealed that his research suggests that regular jumpers are able to overcome the fear involved because they do not suffer from post-traumatic stress like other humans.
“These types of people are wired completely differently,” he said. “BASE jumpers are immune to PTSD.”