About Base Jumping

Overview

Base jumping (which is also referred to as B.A.S.E jumping) is an air sport similar to sky diving where people jump from fixed platforms while using a parachute to release and break their fall. The acronym ‘BASE’ signifies the four categories of fixed objects from which a participant can jump: buildings, aerials, spans (bridges), and earth (cliffs). Initially, the term was first coined by filmmaker Carl Boenish, his wife Jean Boenish, Phil Smith and Phil Mayefield. It was Carl Boenish however, who was the first real pioneer behind modern Base jumping.

In 1978, he filmed the first Base jumps to be made using ram air parachutes and the freefall tracking technique from El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park.While Base jumps had been made prior to that time, the El Capitan event was the actual birth of what we now know as Base jumping. Base jumping is significantly more dangerous than similar sports such as skydiving from aircraft, and is currently regarded by many as a stunt, as well as an extreme air sport.

The History of Base Jumping

It was after 1978 when Base jumps were continued over and over, while being filmed. These were not done as particular stunts or publicity exercises, but rather as an actual recreational sport. These elements would then popularize Base jumping with sky diving enthusiasts the world over, as Boenish kept publishing films and adventure magazines on the topic of Base jumping until his death in 1984. Fortunately for Base jumpers, by the time of his death, the sport of Base jumping had already gained tremendous notice world-wide.

The first famous attempt to jump off a high platform with a parachute came in 1912 when Franz Reichelt – who was also known as ‘The Flying Tailor’, jumped from the first section of the Eiffel Tower in order to test his new invention, the coat parachute. He misleadingly informed the Paris authorities in advance that he was intending to use a dummy for his tests, but showed up at the scene wearing the actual invention himself. After his friends who were also present that day, voiced their concerns for his safety, Reichelt went ahead with his jump regardless of their advice, and foolishly dismissed the unstable weather conditions. The parachute failed to release and he died upon impact.

A year later in 1913, Russian Vladimir Ossovski from Saint Petersburg successfully jumped off the 53 metre bridge on the Seine river in France with the RK-1 parachute, which was invented a year previous by Gleb Kotelnikov. Ossovski had also intended to jump from the Eiffel Tower too – but the Paris authorities denied his request.

Fast forward to 1976, Rick Sylvester, for a ski-chase section in a James Bond film, skied off Mount Asgard in Canada, showing the world for the first time what Base jumping really is. After this inspiration had been provided, Wayne Allwood from Australia parachuted from a helicopter hovering over the Sydney CBD in 1982. He landed on a very small area of the Centrepoint Tower, which is around 300 metres from the ground. He then Base jumped from the tower down into Hyde Park below it.

Towards the end of 1992, two Australians; Nic Feteris and Glenn Singleman, made a Base jump from 6286 metres off the Great Trango Towers in Pakistan. This was to be the highest natural Base jump in the natural world. The highest Base jump from a building came in 2010, when Nasr Al Niyadi and Omar Hegelan from the Emirates Aviation Society, smashed the record for the highest Base jump by leaping from a large crane suspended platform, which was attached to Burj Khalifa’s 160th floor – at 672 metres.

Base Jumping Comparisons

It would be obvious to most that Base jumping had initially been grown from sky diving. However, Base jumps are usually made from much lower levels than sky dives, as a Base jump will rarely achieve terminal velocity. Airspeeds which are higher tend to lend jumpers much more aerodynamic control of their physical bodies, allowing for faster parachute openings.

Sky divers will use the flow of the air to enhance their position within the sky, to eventually allow the parachute to deploy cleanly and correctly. Base jumpers, who fall at much lower speeds, will have less aerodynamic control and could in fact tumble. The shape of the jumper’s body at the moment of launching will determine the stability of the flight of the jump. On Base jumps which have a lower altitude, the parachute needs to be deployed earlier which means that if the jump does turn into a tumble, the jumper needs to correct it in time before letting the parachute release.

This is the instance in which the fatalities that can occur within Base jumping happen. There is always the risk of entanglement once the parachute has been deployed, as the Base jumper always needs to be facing in the correct direction after launching themselves off the platform. Such  problems as these would not be so bad in sky diving, as there is much more time to correct the problem, but in Base jumping – it could prove to be potentially fatal.

Modern Base Jumping

After completing a jump from each of the four object categories, Base jumpers can elect to apply for a ‘BASE number’. Each number is awarded sequentially, with the first being given to Phil Smith of Texas in 1981. In March of 2005, the 1000th Base number had been awarded to Matt Moilanen of Michigan, and as of 2010, there has been over 1,400 Base numbers issued all around the world.

Base jumping is quite often featured in many popular action films. The Vin Diesel film XXX, produced in 2002, portrays a scene where Diesel’s characters launches himself from the Foresthill Bridge in an open topped car. He lands safely while the car crashes and burns to the ground. Similarly, in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, there is a scene where the main characters jump while utilizing a wing suit from the IFC Tower located in Hong Kong. They continue to fly over the Bank of China, before opening the parachutes and land on a moving freight carrier. It would appear that Base jumping is entertaining to both jumpers and viewers alike.

The Guinness World Records had first listed Base jumping records in 1984 with Carl Boenish’s jump from Trollveggen in Norway. At that time, Guinness described it as being the world record for the highest Base jump. While this record category is still in the Guinness book, the actual record is now held by Glenn Singleman and Heather Swan, who jumped 6,604 metres from the Meru Peak in Northern India.

Actual competitions for Base jumping include the ability to land accurately and adapt free-fall aerobatics as judging criteria. These events have been held since the early 1980s, and formal competitions in recent years have been held at the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Base jumpers must jump from the 452-metre high platform and are judged on landing accuracy alone.