The annual Bridge Day event each October draws thousands of spectators and hundreds of BASE jumpers to New River Gorge National River. A few jumpers, however, can't resist the urge to free-lance their own event. Four jumpers who decided to conduct an unauthorized nighttime leap from the famous bridge last week were apprehended and face a variety of charges.
BASE stands for building, antenna, span, earth—the fixed objects from which these parachutists jump. The activity is not usually allowed in National Park Service areas, with the annual event at New River Gorge being the exception.
The New River Gorge Bridge is the longest, single-span steel arch bridge in the western hemisphere, and a magnet for BASE jumpers. The October event is said to be the largest one-day festival in the state of West Virginia, and involves considerable logistical support.
Rangers at the park learned that a BASE jump group out of Ohio was planning to make multiple parachute jumps from the New River Gorge Bridge earlier this month.
According to a park report, "On the night of December 10th, as a full moon rose over the gorge, the ranger assigned to observe the bridge for activity heard and then saw several individuals parachuting from the catwalk below the bridge."
In addition to the legal issues, there were a couple of significant problems with this particular event. A park spokesperson notes that the river was flowing around 20,000 cubic feet per second, very high for this time of the year. Due to the high water, the only place available for the BASE jumpers to land was the railroad track that runs alongside the river.
It's unknown what plans—if any—the jumpers had for conducting a fast water rescue in the dark if one or more of them had landed in the river rather than on the railroad track. I can only presume they took a moment to "stop, look and listen" for the sight or sound of an approaching train before making their leap.
The surveillance ranger watched as the jumpers were picked up by someone in a vehicle and relayed details to rangers stationed nearby. Those rangers stopped the vehicle a short distance away and found five people from Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana inside. They also discovered four deployed parachutes.
A total of nine mandatory appearance citations were issued for trespassing, illegal air delivery, and for aiding and abetting illegal air delivery. One of the five is apparently determined…or a slow leaner. That individual had been cited by rangers on a previous occasion for trespassing on the bridge while attempting an illegal BASE jump.