America’s Biggest BASE Jump

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Photograph by Dan Krauss

On October 19, 450 people will BASE jump off the New River Gorge Bridge, near Fayetteville, West Virginia, to celebrate the 34th annual Bridge Day – the only legally sanctioned BASE jumping event in the United States. An expected 80,000 spectators will gather to watch people hurl themselves – one every 20 seconds – from the 3,030-foot span. Standing 876 feet above the New River’s rushing water, the single-arch bridge (third-tallest of its kind in the U.S.) is known as one of the safest for BASE jumping, thanks to its height and wide-open surroundings. “If my chute opens in the wrong direction, what we call a 180, I’m not going to swing back into a cliff or building,” says jump coordinator Jason Bell. BASE enthusiasts with at least 100 prior parachute jumps can pay $99 to leap into the 320-million-year-old gorge, while newbies can fork over $999 to do it while tethered to a pro. According to Bell, the event attracts experienced free fallers of all kinds, from people in wheelchairs to octogenarians. Those looking to up the stakes can opt for the hydraulic human catapult, an event added last year. “The uncertainty of where you end up is exciting,” says Bill Bird, who mans the landing area at the bottom. “Jumpers land in the rapids, across the river, in the trees. We have a handful of injuries every year, but 90 percent of the time people are back at the party that night.

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