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Considerations After the Cliff Strike

by Anonymous

The following is a post I originally wrote as part of a discussion about this incident.

At first I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to make the incident report publicly available. After seeing the reactions I’m glad I did. Even those that took the effort to lecture me through private messages and emails have done so on a basis of respect and out of concern for my well-being. Those messages are all much appreciated, and it has once again reinforced my belief that sharing knowledge and experience is a good thing.

If just a single person reconsiders his desire to do a snowboard BASE after reading my story, it’s already worth it. So thanks for the feedback everybody.

That said, there are two points that I would like to comment on. These have been raised independently by several people. Rather than replying individually, I want to address them here in the hope it starts a discussion. The two points are…

  • Luck was a big, if not the only, reason you’re still alive.
  • You seem to have an extraordinarily high number of incidents, relative to the number of jumps you have done.

Let’s consider the number of incidents I had first. The luck factor will come up along the way.

In my extremely short BASE career of only 84 jumps and 17 objects, I can recall 4 jumps that didn’t work out as well as I wanted. The other 80 jumps went as planned, meaning I had an onheading opening, a predefined flight pattern, and a soft landing (optionally with a PLF).

The four unplanned events were…
  1. A significant pilotchute hesitation at the Perrine.
  2. An unstable exit on my second foot-launched cliff jump, followed by a tree landing. Described here.
  3. A 180 on a recent 300 foot crane jump.
  4. The cliff strike talked about in this thread.

The first and third incident need some qualification.

The pilotchute hesitation was due to a defective pilotchute. While I still take full responsibility for that incident, this could and has happened to significantly more experienced jumpers jumping pilotchutes of the same faulty fabric.

The 180 offheading on a recent 300 foot crane jump is arguably an incident to remember, but not something worth calling out. I had a 180, I was about 25 feet away from the building, I got it turned around in time, and I flew a landing pattern to my predefined backup landing area. Big deal for me, but no big deal for the sport. I had a nice and stable exit, there was no wind that night, and the packjob was at least as clean as all others before that, the ones that didn’t give me offheadings. Anybody who is in the sport long enough is inevitably going to get a 180 at some point. I got my first one on jump 82 and managed to come out without problems. I wouldn’t call it an incident of statistical significance.

This leaves the other two jumps to think about. Both those incidents were undeniably complete and utter fuckups on my part.

The first one: the unstable exit on my second cliff jump was due to overconfidence in my BASE jumping skills. I fully acknowledged that and immediately went back to the Perrine the weekend after and did nothing but long delay stable exit practice for the entire weekend. My foot launched exits have since been rock solid. My tree landing on that jump was similarly moronic as I underestimated the glide power of my canopy. I have since improved my landing skills significantly as those who have seen me land in the advanced spot at our local cliff will attest to.

The second one: the unstable exit on my second snowboard BASE was due to overconfidence in my snowboarding skills. We could argue whether or not I should have been up there on a snowboard in the first place, but what matters is that it was my snowboarding that fucked up my BASE jumping, not the other way around.

So with this background, let’s try and answer the question: do I have an above average number of incidents? I am particularly interested in answers from older BASE jumpers. I have done 17 objects in 84 jumps, 6 of which I opened myself (urban cranes). Many contemporary jumpers getting up to 84 jumps have mostly Perrine jumps. By all means this is a good and intelligent thing to do, and one may argue that I am rushing into new objects too quickly. But I’m wondering what my incident ratio is like when compared to the jumping style that the BASE roadtrips during the 90s demonstrated.

Noteworthy is my weakness to share my stupidity with the world. How many BASE jumpers out there have had an incident happen to them and never shared their story? They don’t have to if they don’t want to, there are pros and cons to sharing. My point is that there is a lot more shit going on out there than we tell ourselves.

For example, one popular cliff not too far from where I live has had at least five strikes in the past few years. All ended without injury, and none got much attention beyond some discussion in the local BASE community. I know several BASE jumpers who have had broken bones or otherwise injured themselves on BASE jumps, yet never spoke or wrote about it. Arguably I’m an exhibitionist…

Heck, speaking of exhibitionism. Maybe my repeated attempts to jump bridges with toggles unstowed, intentional line-twist, and other interesting side effects, have led to an reputation of being reckless. Maybe so, but I’d say these were all jumps that involved a significant degree of risk-management. You don’t see me pack intentional line-twist on a cliff jump.

Now having said all that, let’s try and tackle the comments on luck in the hope that I’ll ultimately be able to drive this long post towards some sort of conclusion.

Surviving the pilotchute hesitation incident was total luck. When the deployment sequence took longer than I expected, I curled up into a little ball, braced for impact, screamed “Oh Shit!” and managed to spill just enough air into the pilotchute to open a canopy in 5.2 seconds, rather than 5.3 seconds.

Surviving the recent 180 off the crane had nothing to do with luck. If anything it was bad luck that I got a 180 in the first place, and then a sufficiently quick response to get my canopy turned away from the building followed by a flight according to a predefined backup plan.

This leaves the other two incidents to ponder about. What part is luck, what part is preparation, and what part is skill? First, this diatribe is not meant to argue that it was skill and preparation that kept me alive. On the contrary, I’m well aware both incidents involved a significant number of variables I had no control over. Nonetheless, I do feel I have put myself in a position that defies the traditional lottery-winner definition of luck. Even more so, this is not about me potentially being offended by the comments on luck. I have pretty thick skin and am well aware of my own retardedness. This post is to comment on the disservice you are doing to the sport by attributing such survival stories to sheer luck alone.

If somebody accidentally falls from a 500 foot cliff without a parachute, lands onto a steep bank of snow, tumbles down, gets up, and walks away, I would say that’s luck in the lottery or Russian roulette sense of the word.

Compare this with somebody who…
  • Is wearing a parachute to begin with.
  • Decides to go handheld instead of stowed, such that he can pitch at the first sign of instability
  • Invested money into a vented canopy, knowing such a canopy would function better when bouncing against a wall.
  • Is wearing a full face mountainbiking helmet.
  • Is wearing full body armor.
  • Has spend some amount of time tuning his deep brake settings to minimize forward speed on opening.
  • Pulls hard on rear risers, trying to turn away, or at least slow down.
  • Is fully aware of the risks involved (note that in this particular incident it wasn’t the incident that surprised me, it was the post-incident emotional impact it had. The risks and the incident itself never surprised me once.)

Suddenly we’re looking at a vastly different idea of what luck really means. We could argue on whether or not I am putting too much trust into gear and technology to save my ass, and that I would be much better off with better exit and canopy skills. But that doesn’t change the fact that at least part of the incident was heavily influenced by a decision making process that occurred before I even left the object.

I accept full responsibility for being stupid enough to hit the cliff in the first place. But I am simultaneously taking full credit for hitting the cliff soft enough to remain without injuries. How many people have gotten hurt on cliffstrikes because of excessive forward speed, because their Gath helmets didn’t offer much impact protection, or because their jeans and t-shirts didn’t quite have the sturdiness of a body armor suit?

So now we get to the point where I will actually agree on having been lucky. As my incident report already pointed out, my canopy could have collapsed or torn during my bumpy ride down the cliff. I don’t think we should underestimate the structural integrity and floating power of a modern vented canopy, but that is no excuse to put blind trust in gear and technology advances. Nonetheless, we have seen and heard of a number of cliffstrikes in the past years in which the canopy held up remarkably well. Dare I say that not all cliffstrikes guarantee death?

I also could have hung up in a much nastier spot, unable to find a ledge to sit on. Then again, if the wall had been smoother maybe I could have turned it around. Or maybe I could have ended up near a bigger ledge that wasn’t so dangerous. So maybe there was as much bad luck involved as there was luck involved.

As Jeb Corliss once said: “There are two kinds of BASE jumpers: those who have had serious accidents, and those who will have serious accidents.” I never went into this sport thinking I would avoid object strike until I retired. On the contrary, I knew that one day I was going to hit an object. I did my best to prepare for the eventuality and combined with a certain dose of luck (or state of the universe if you like) I came out unharmed.

Was I lucky? To some degree. Am I grateful for being able to live another day? Most definitely. Did I learn a lesson? Absolutely. Did I go into this adventure completely retarded and unaware of what could happen? No.

Then again, maybe denial is the true sign of ignorance and stupidity…

A good friend told me recently…

For the record, if and when I go in, I prefer that you all lambast me for inadequate preparation, rather than chalking it up to “bad luck”. I’ll be fighting “until my goggles fill up with blood”. Please allow me responsibility for my final actions.

Thanks…


Submitted by Anonymous on 2007-06-18 | Last Modified on 2007-06-26

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.  | Votes: 7 | Comments: 4 | Views: 7017

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4 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

 panavision
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 2010-04-23
5 out of 5 stars reading and listen is good
 panavision
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 2010-04-23
5 out of 5 stars reading and listen is good
 pipp
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 2011-02-25
5 out of 5 stars Very interesting reading, thanks for sharing...
 Holdfast
Holdfast
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 2013-06-15
Try hard enough and one day you'll end up a statistic.

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