How Climbing Legend and Wingsuit Pilot Dean Potter Died

Dean Potter enjoys a respite after walking a 41-meter-long and two-centimeter-wide slackline over Enshi Grand Canyon at an altitude of 1,800m on April 22, 2012 in Enshi, Hubei Province of China. Credit: ChinaFotoPress / Getty Images

Dean Potter, the iconoclastic climber and wingsuit pilot died this weekend BASE-jumping in Yosemite National Park.

Reports say that he and fellow wingsuit pilot Graham Hunt died after hitting a cliff while jumping from Taft Point, a 1,000-foot-high granite promontory overlooking Yosemite Valley, on Saturday night. A friend called Yosemite search and rescue after the two failed to arrive at their predetermined meeting point, and their bodies were retrieved Sunday morning via a rescue helicopter. Neither Potter nor Hunt appeared to have deployed their parachute.   

Potter cemented his reputation as a boundary-pushing BASE-jumper in 2009, when he climbed the 13,020-foot Eiger mountain in the Swiss Alps and jumped high from its flank, setting the record for the longest wingsuit flight in history (nearly 4 minutes aloft). He’d also invented the pursuit of what he called "Free-BASEing," ascending the hardest climbing routes while using a specially designed BASE rig as safety instead of a rope.

Before then, Potter was already well established as one of the world’s top climbers — one of Yosemite's original climbing rebels — who innovated free solo climbing, taking routes without backup ropes.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Dean Potter, Mountain Freak

Despite being an innovator in some of the most dangerous sports in the country, Potter was a stickler for safety and proud of his backup systems. Just two weeks ago, Potter told Men’s Journal that his "number one goal — out of concern for self and family, but also the representation of my arts — is that I don't ever get taken out by fucking up. It's going to hurt if I fall. I don't want to deal with that. I want to prove that it can be done for a long life, until I'm an old man."