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BASE Jumpers Cited For Illegal Leap at New River Gorge National River


A freight train passing under the New River Gorge Bridge. Photo by jpmuller99 via Creative Commons and flickr.

The annual Bridge Day event each October draws thousands of spectators and hundreds of BASE jumpers to New River Gorge National River. A few jumpers, however, can't resist the urge to free-lance their own event. Four jumpers who decided to conduct an unauthorized nighttime leap from the famous bridge last week were apprehended and face a variety of charges.

BASE stands for building, antenna, span, earth—the fixed objects from which these parachutists jump. The activity is not usually allowed in National Park Service areas, with the annual event at New River Gorge being the exception.

The New River Gorge Bridge is the longest, single-span steel arch bridge in the western hemisphere, and a magnet for BASE jumpers. The October event is said to be the largest one-day festival in the state of West Virginia, and involves considerable logistical support.

Rangers at the park learned that a BASE jump group out of Ohio was planning to make multiple parachute jumps from the New River Gorge Bridge earlier this month.

According to a park report, "On the night of December 10th, as a full moon rose over the gorge, the ranger assigned to observe the bridge for activity heard and then saw several individuals parachuting from the catwalk below the bridge."

In addition to the legal issues, there were a couple of significant problems with this particular event. A park spokesperson notes that the river was flowing around 20,000 cubic feet per second, very high for this time of the year. Due to the high water, the only place available for the BASE jumpers to land was the railroad track that runs alongside the river.

It's unknown what plans—if any—the jumpers had for conducting a fast water rescue in the dark if one or more of them had landed in the river rather than on the railroad track. I can only presume they took a moment to "stop, look and listen" for the sight or sound of an approaching train before making their leap.

The surveillance ranger watched as the jumpers were picked up by someone in a vehicle and relayed details to rangers stationed nearby. Those rangers stopped the vehicle a short distance away and found five people from Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana inside. They also discovered four deployed parachutes.

A total of nine mandatory appearance citations were issued for trespassing, illegal air delivery, and for aiding and abetting illegal air delivery. One of the five is apparently determined…or a slow leaner. That individual had been cited by rangers on a previous occasion for trespassing on the bridge while attempting an illegal BASE jump.


Why is BASE jumping illegal? Were these people doing anything that would case harm to others or would cause negative reprocussions? I am not a BASE jumper, but I could see if I was only allowed to legally play soccer one day a year, you'd have a hard time keeping me from breaking those rules too. 

BASE jumping isn't illegal as long as the jumpers have permission. These jumpers did not an as such were breaking several laws. The danger to themselves is not the issue. As the article stated, the river was flowing at an extremely high rate. If one of them had landed in the river and needed rescue, emergency personel would have to put their lives at risk to save them. Then there is the outside chance they land in front of a train and the psychological impact on the operator of that train.
Most BASE jumpers play by the rules. Unfortunately there is always a small group of idiots who think the laws don't apply to them or that it is ok to break laws they feel infringe upon their having fun.

The essentially NPS stopped allowing BASE jumping after there were some problems in Yosemite. It wasn't necessarily the danger, but apparently that the jumpers had no concept that leaving trash behind wasn't OK, or that they thought driving through foot trails was better than hiking to the top. After it was made illegal, there have been several fatalities.

There were a couple of strange cases in 1999. One guy hid his equipment, jumped off El Capitan, then tried to evade capture by park rangers by jumping into the Merced River, where he drowned. It took almost a month to recover his body.

Antioch Funeral for Skydiver Who Drowned at Yosemite

Then there was a group that was essentially allowed by the NPS to go BASE jumping off El Capitan as some sort of protest, but with caveats. The NPS didn't stop them from going up, but they all agreed that they would voluntarily surrender when they landed and that they would allow their equipment to be confiscated. Apparently one of the jumpers didn't want to lose her expensive equipment, so she borrowed a less expensive setup with a rip cord in the leg. She never tested it and apparently couldn't get it to open after she jumped. Media was on hand to capture the protest. I don't recall if footage of the fall was ever released.

Yosemite Death Plunge
Parachute fails during stunt protesting ban on jumps

If one of them had landed in the river and needed rescue, emergency personel would have to put their lives at risk to save them. Then there is the outside chance they land in front of a train and the psychological impact on the operator of that train.
This is so true. If you read the NPS Morning Reports, the rescues are at the top of the page (search on and you see so many people risking their lives to save an individual in trouble. And these are underpaid rangers who are putting themselves at great risk. "Ranger Confidential" by Andrea Lankford has many harrowing rescue stories. Water rescues can be particularly dicey.
BASE jumpers are banned in locations, not just the national parks. The Wikipedia entry does not cite sources, but the section on legal issues gives a good overview of why BASE jumpers are unwelcome in many places.

Do you people live in such a wimpy society that you are afraid to have the bravado that America was founded on? Do you people realize that there are so many, many jumps happening and there has never been a lawsuit in the US against an object owner, government office?  Do you realize that most jumpers when travelling abroad actually pay insurance to cover all rescues?  Do you realize that we as BASE jumpers would prefer to police ourselves and that we actually do a majority of our self-rescues?  Do you realize there are Russian Cosmonauts who are BASE jumpers?  Seriously...
I quote Charles Lindberg: What kind of man would live a life without daring?  Is life so sweet that we should criticize men that seek adventure?  Is there a better way to die?
We are not costing anything to anyone.  Leave us alone to enjoy our sport.  I'll leave you alone to enjoy your sport - shopping at Walmart and watching reality TV.

to the person who so smartly wrote that "BASE jumping isn't illegal" well, you are wrong.  it IS illegal in National Parks.  it is the rational behind the law that is ridculous.  all the arguments about BASE jumpers risking rescue personnel's lives is ludicrous.  it would be absolutely no different from any other rescue operation if jumping WAS legal, like any other BLM park where jumping (alongside climbing, kayaking, paragliding, etc.) is a completely legal and accepted activity.
where you are correct is that there are "always a small group of iditos" who think they know what is right for everyone else.  this country is so ridiculous with it's out of control bureaucrats, politicians and lawyers establishing ridiculous laws and regulation at an alarming rate, simply to boost their own professional agenda.
freedom is now against the law.  this country is screwed.

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