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BASE jumping, also sometimes written as B.A.S.E. jumping, is an activity where participants jump from fixed objects and use a parachute to break their fall. "BASE" is an acronym that stands for four categories of fixed objects from which one can jump: building, antenna, span, and Earth (cliff).
In the USA, BASE jumping is currently regarded by many as a fringe extreme sport or stunt. As of 21 May 2014[update] the online "BASE Fatality List" records 230 deaths for BASE jumping since April 1981.
The acronym "B.A.S.E." (now more commonly "BASE") was coined by filmmaker Carl Boenish, his wife Jean Boenish, Phil Smith, and Phil Mayfield. Carl Boenish was the catalyst behind modern BASE jumping, and 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 activity was the effective birth of what is now called BASE jumping.
BASE numbers are awarded to those who have made at least one jump from each of the four categories (buildings, antennas, spans and earth). When Phil Smith and Phil Mayfield jumped together from a Houston skyscraper on 18 January 1981, they became the first to attain the exclusive BASE numbers (BASE #1 and #2, respectively), having already jumped from an antenna, spans, and earthen objects. Jean and Carl Boenish qualified for BASE numbers 3 and 4 soon after. A separate "award" was soon enacted for Night BASE jumping when Mayfield completed each category at night, becoming Night BASE #1, with Smith qualifying a few weeks later.
During the early eighties, nearly all BASE jumps were made using standard skydiving equipment, including two parachutes (main and reserve), and deployment components. Later on, specialized equipment and techniques were developed specifically for the unique needs of BASE jumping.
Upon completing a jump from all of the four object categories, a jumper may choose to apply for a "BASE number", which are awarded sequentially. BASE #1 was awarded to Phil Smith of Houston, Texas in 1981. The 1000th application for a BASE number was filed in March 2005 and BASE #1000 was awarded to Matt Moilanen of Kalamazoo, Michigan. As of February 2014[update], over 1,700 BASE numbers have been issued.
BASE jumping is often featured in action movies. The 2002 Vin Diesel film xXx includes a scene where Diesel's character catapults himself off the Foresthill Bridge in an open-topped car, landing safely as the car crashes on the ground. In the movie Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, includes the scene in which the main characters jump with wing suits from the IFC Tower in Hong Kong and fly over the Bank of China, finally opening their parachutes to land on a moving freighter. The stunt was done live, with no special effects, by base jumpers Martin Rosén and Per Eriksson, members of the Swedish "Team Bautasten". The scene was filmed by air-to-air camera man Mikael Nordqvist from the same team. Since the 1976 Mount Asgard jump featured in the pre-credits sequence to The Spy Who Loved Me, James Bond movies have featured several BASE jumps, including one from the Eiffel Tower in 1985's A View to a Kill, the Rock of Gibraltar in 1987's The Living Daylights, and in Die Another Day, 2002, Pierce Brosnan as James Bond jumps from a melting iceberg. Of the James Bond jumps only the Mt Asgard and Eiffel Tower jumps were filmed live; the rest were special effects. And in 2005's "Batman Begins", Bruce Wayne uses BASE jumping as inspiration for his memory cloth cape. A series of BASE jumps are featured in the video for a remix of M83's "Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun".
Guinness World Records first listed a BASE jumping record with Carl Boenish's 1984 leap from Trollveggen (Troll Wall) in Norway. It was described as the highest BASE jump. (The jump was made two days before Boenish's death at the same site.) This record category is still in the Guinness book and is currently held by Australians Glenn Singleman and Heather Swan with a jump from Meru Peak in northern India at a starting elevation of 6,604 metres (21,667 ft). On July 8, 2006 Captain Daniel G. Schilling set the Guinness World Record for the most BASE jumps in a twenty-four hour period. Schilling jumped off the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho a record 201 times.
BASE competitions have been held since the early 1980s, with accurate landings or free fall aerobatics used as the judging criteria. Recent years have seen a formal competition held at the 452 metres (1,483 ft) high Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, judged on landing accuracy.
However, these and other sporadic incidents were one-time experiments, not the systematic pursuit of a new form of parachuting. After 1978, the filmed jumps from El Capitan were repeated, not as a publicity exercise or as a movie stunt, but as a true recreational activity. It was this that popularised BASE jumping more widely among parachutists. Carl Boenish continued to publish films and informational magazines on BASE jumping until his death in 1984 after a BASE-jump off of the Troll Wall. By this time, the concept had spread among skydivers worldwide, with hundreds of participants making fixed-object jumps.
BASE jumping grew out of skydiving. BASE jumps are generally made from much lower altitudes than skydives, and a BASE jump takes place close to the object serving as the jump platform. Because BASE jumps generally entail slower airspeeds than typical skydives (due to the limited altitude), a BASE jumper does not always reach terminal velocity. Because higher airspeeds enable jumpers more aerodynamic control of their bodies, as well as more positive and quick parachute openings, the longer the delay, the better. BASE jumping is significantly more dangerous than similar sports such as skydiving from aircraft.
Skydivers use the air flow to stabilize their position, allowing the parachute to deploy cleanly. BASE jumpers, falling at lower speeds, have less aerodynamic control, and may tumble. The attitude of the body at the moment of jumping determines the stability of flight in the first few seconds, before sufficient airspeed has built up to enable aerodynamic stability. On low BASE jumps, parachute deployment takes place during this early phase of flight, so if a poor "launch" leads into a tumble, the jumper may not be able to correct this before the opening. If the parachute is deployed while the jumper is tumbling, there is a high risk of entanglement or malfunction. The jumper may also not be facing the right direction. Such an off-heading opening is not as problematic in skydiving, but an off-heading opening that results in object strike has caused many serious injuries and deaths in BASE jumping.
At an altitude of 600m (2,000 feet), having been in free-fall for at least 300m (1,000 feet), the jumper is falling at approximately 55 m/s (190 km/h, 120 mph), and is approximately 10.9 seconds from the ground. Most BASE jumps are made from less than 600m (2,000 feet). For example, a BASE jump from a 150m (500 foot) object is about 5.6 seconds from the ground if the jumper remains in free fall. On a BASE jump, the parachute must open at about half the airspeed of a similar skydive, and more quickly (in a shorter distance fallen). Standard skydiving parachute systems are not designed for this situation, so BASE jumpers often use specially designed harnesses and parachute containers, with extra large pilot chutes, and many jump with only one parachute, since there would be little time to utilize a reserve parachute. If modified, by removing the bag and slider, stowing the lines in a tail pocket, and fitting a large pilot chute, standard skydiving gear can be used for lower BASE jumps, but is then prone to kinds of malfunction that are rare in normal skydiving (such as "line-overs" and broken lines).
Another risk is that most BASE jumping venues have very small areas in which to land. A beginner skydiver, after parachute deployment, may have a three minute or more parachute ride to the ground. A BASE jump from 150m (500 foot) will have a parachute ride of only 10 to 15 seconds.
One way to make a parachute open very quickly is to use a static line or direct bag. These devices form an attachment between the parachute and the jump platform, which stretches out the parachute and suspension lines as the jumper falls, before separating and allowing the parachute to inflate. This method enables the very lowest jumps (below 60m / 200 ft) to be made, although most BASE jumpers are more motivated to make higher jumps involving free fall. This method is similar to the paratrooper's deployment system, also called a PCA (Pilot Chute Assist).
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The legal issues are that a BASE jumper must consider concern permissions to use the object from which the jump is initiated and the area used for landing.
Surreptitious BASE jumps are often made from tall buildings and antenna towers. Many such BASE jumps must be covert because the owners of these objects are generally reluctant to allow their object to be used as a platform. While BASE jumping itself is generally not illegal, making events such as the "Go Fast Games" at the Royal Gorge Bridge possible, the covert nature of accessing objects usually necessitates trespassing on an object. Jumpers who are caught can expect to be charged with trespassing, as well as having charges like breaking and entering, reckless endangerment, vandalism, or other such charges pressed against them. Other people accompanying the jumper, such as ground crew, may also face charges. In some jurisdictions it may be permissible to use land until specifically told not to. Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho, is an example of a man-made structure in the United States where BASE jumping is allowed year-round without a permit.
Once a year, on the third Saturday in October ("Bridge Day"), permission to BASE jump has explicitly been granted at the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville, West Virginia. The New River Gorge Bridge deck is 876 feet (297 m) above the river. This annual event attracts about 450 BASE jumpers and nearly 200,000 spectators. 1,100 jumps may occur during the six hours that it is legal provided good conditions. For many skydivers who would like to try BASE jumping, this bridge will be the only fixed object from which they ever jump. On 21 October 2006, veteran BASE jumper Brian Lee Schubert of Alta Loma, California died while jumping from the New River Gorge Bridge during Bridge Day activities because his parachute opened late; he plummeted to his death in the waters below. Jumps continued after the recovery of his body. He and his friend Michael Pelkey were the first to make a BASE jump from El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in 1966.
The National Park Service (NPS) has the authority to ban specific activities in US National Parks and has done so for BASE jumping. The authority comes from 36 CFR 2.17(3), which prohibits, "Delivering or retrieving a person or object by parachute, helicopter, or other airborne means, except in emergencies involving public safety or serious property loss, or pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit." Under that Regulation, BASE is not banned, but is allowable if a permit is issued by the Superintendent, which means that a mechanism to allow BASE in National Parks was always in place. However, National Park Service Management Policies have stated that BASE "is not an appropriate public use activity within national park areas ..." (2001 Management Policy 22.214.171.124.) This policy bans air delivery but includes a proposal to replace the language that bans it with a different text. The fate and effects of this proposal are unknown.
During the early days of BASE jumping, the NPS issued permits that authorized jumps from El Capitan. This program ran for three months in 1980 and then collapsed amid allegations of abuse by unauthorized jumpers. The NPS has since vigorously enforced the ban, charging jumpers with "aerial delivery into a National Park". Although one jumper drowned in the Merced River while being chased by Park Rangers intent on arresting him, illegal jumps continue in Yosemite at a rate estimated at a few hundred per year, often at night or dawn. El Capitan, Half Dome and Glacier Point have been used as jump sites.
The legal position is different at other sites and in other countries. For example, in Norway's Lysefjord (from the mountain Kjerag), BASE jumpers are made welcome. Many sites in the European Alps, near Chamonix and on the Eiger, are also open to jumpers. Some other Norwegian places, like the Troll Wall, are banned because of dangerous rescue missions in the past. In Austria, jumping from mountain cliffs is generally allowed, whereas the use of bridges (such as the Europabruecke near Innsbruck, Tirol) or dams is generally prohibited. Australia has some of the toughest stances on BASE jumping: it specifically bans BASE jumping from certain objects, such as the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
BASE jumping as of 2006 has an overall fatality rate estimated at about one fatality per sixty participants. A study of 20,850 BASE jumps from the same site (the Kjerag Massif in Norway) reported 9 fatalities over the 11-year period from 1995 to 2005, or 1 in every 2,317 jumps. However, at that site, 1 in every 254 jumps over that period resulted in a nonfatal accident. BASE jumping is one of the most dangerous recreational activities in the world, with a fatality and injury rate 43 times higher than parachuting from a plane.
As of 29 March 2014[update] the 'BASE Fatality List' maintained by Blincmagazine.com records 230 deaths for BASE jumping since April 1981.
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