A whoosh, a green flash and over. A few weeks ago, when I took a break during skiing below the 2,550-meter-high Brevent above Chamonix, a base jumper in a green wingsuit flew, no, he shot over me down to the valley. Like a bat with jet propulsion. I admit that I was fascinated on the one hand. On the other hand, I wondered whether the risk of this extreme sport was really calculable. Depending on the terrain, an unexpected gust of wind from the side can be enough to let the jumper’s life come to a sudden end by crashing against a rock.
Just as last Saturday the lives of the two Americans Dean Potter and Graham Hunt. As reported, both died on a wingsuit flight from the almost 2,300-meter-high Taft Point in Yosemite National Park. Potter had continuously made headlines with his extremely dangerous projects: climbing free solo, balancing over highlines between two rocky pinnacles – or jumping with a wingsuit from cliffs. Potter is No. 256 on the fatality list of base jumpers, which is maintained since 1981.
Since 2010, 111 jumpers have died; the death toll in this period was between 15 and 25 per year. A statistics is included: 71.5 percent of these base jumpers died when jumping from cliffs, 12 percent of the victims had jumped from antenna masts, ten percent from buildings. The most frequent cause of death was that the canopies did not open (38 percent of cases), followed by clashing against cliffs (30 percent). Just over a third of the victims (35.5 percent) had used wingsuits. The first of these flight suits were introduced just about ten years ago.
The sad list includes the names of twelve Germans. Last Thursday, just two days before Potter and Hunt, a German base jumper (not using a wingsuit) died after he had jumped from Monte Brento in Italy. It is still unclear why his canopy did not open. Maybe he just miscalculated. He was only 25 years old. Now he is No. 254 on the fatality list.
Always after fatal accidents, the call for a ban on this extreme sport is getting louder. One and a half year ago, I asked the wingsuit flyer Alexander Polli what he thought of it. “Regulating something like this is almost impossible. The locations from where you jump, how do you gonna have a little security checkpoint on top of the mountain? ‘Yes, you can jump! No you can’t!’”, Polli answered, laughing.
Inevitably high casualty rate?
Mountaineering legend Chris Bonington finds that there is hardly any difference in the kind of motivation of base jumpers and extreme climbers. “If you have the adrenaline junkies which we are and if you want to take that to the extreme and go out to the outer limits inevitably there is going to be a high casualty rate”, the 80-year-old Briton told me recently. “And there is a high casualty rate amongst extreme climbers at altitude as there are amongst for instance base jumpers, wingsuit fliers and so on. I think it’s not people who have got a death wish. It’s something that people are turned on by the huge excitement, euphoria of taking your body and yourself to the absolute limit to achieve an objective.”
Date19. May 2015 | 20:43