National Geographic News

Nancy Shute

for National Geographic

Published March 25, 2014

Watch the viral video on YouTube and you might understand why the lure of the forbidden was too great for three BASE jumpers who leaped from the top of New York's highest tower at the World Trade Center site last fall.

The three men were arraigned on Monday, after leaping from the 105th floor of the 1,776-foot-tall (541 meters) tower on September 30.

After dropping through the early morning darkness toward the glittering city, one jumper—who filmed his descent with a helmet camera—landed safely on the West Side Highway, which was devoid of traffic.

At the time, surveillance video captured two of the men landing near the offices of the Goldman Sachs investment bank in Lower Manhattan. But it took months of investigation to identify the flyers.

The men were charged with reckless endangerment, burglary, and BASE jumping in the incident. The criminal complaint says the landing created a "substantial risk of serious physical injury" to pedestrians and drivers below.

Thrills and Risks

BASE jumpers leap from buildings, cliffs, and bridges and plummet for a few minutes before unfurling a parachute (the name is an acronym for "building, antenna, span, and earth.")  Though the World Trade Center daredevils landed safely, others have not been so lucky.

On Monday, a BASE jumper was found dead in Utah's Zion National Park, according to the Associated Press, after falling in a remote location in the park.

The month before, Amber Bellows died in Zion after jumping from the park's Mount Kinesava. Her parachute failed to open, and she fell 2,000 feet (610 meters).

BASE jumpers die much more frequently than skydivers, with a five- to eightfold increased risk of injury or death, according to a study of 20,850 jumps at a Norwegian mountain range popular with jumpers.  Another analysis singled BASE jumping out as far riskier than any other sport. About 12 jumpers die each year worldwide.

"Flying Like a Bird"

The idea of jumping from a tower or other fixed object with a parachute is centuries old. But it wasn't until the 1970s that skydivers popularized the sport by leaping from El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. (See "Yosemite Climbing" in National Geographic magazine.)

"It's as close as human beings can get to flying like a bird," said J. T. Holmes of Squaw Valley, California, who has made about a thousand jumps using a wing suit that allows a longer glide and the ability to steer.

BASE jumpers avidly seek out sites that have never been jumped before.

In 2006, BASE jumper Jeb Corliss was arrested after he tried to scale the protective fence of the Empire State Building observation deck.

The World Trade Center jumpers arraigned Monday said they had no problem getting access to the building. "We just kind of walked in," one told the New York Times on Monday.

Jeramie Alward
Jeramie Alward

These 3 men are the embodiment of what America was founded on. I have several friends who skydive and base jump. The irony is that they jumped off a tower with Freedom in its name, and nyc officials want to throw the book at them, when a 16 yo kid go up that tower past a sleeping guard and still no one was hurt. And i like the comment below, they can get 7 years but bankers get to continue raping the money form American citizens.

Debra Levi
Debra Levi

)))))))) ))))))))) ))))))))) ))))))))))

Karen Gebhard
Karen Gebhard

Life is short...if you're not hurting anyone else..go for it.

If you might..then don't do it. Simple.

Chris Kirk
Chris Kirk

No problem with BASE jumpers, so long as they responsibly pre-arrange and cover the expense of medical treatment for themselves and third parties, along with the unpleasant tidy-up in the likely event of it all going wrong.

Will Schmidt
Will Schmidt

I like how they arrest these guys, but they can't arrest Wall Street bankers.

Good work, America.

Gerard Van der Leun
Gerard Van der Leun

"BASE jumpers leap from buildings, cliffs, and bridges and plummet for a few minutes..."

Dear Nancy, Though you obviously know NOTHING about base jumping, you might want to review what was obviously poorly taught to you about the speed of terminal velocity and how fast even a very tall skyscraper goes by on your way to the ground.

Minutes have nothing to do with it. In fact, in a few minutes you would have been a few minutes minus just a few seconds dead. Think.

Just because you are a product of US "higher" education does not mean you should write high,


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