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BASE Jumping: Articles: Stories: Innocent Bystander

Innocent Bystander

by Ron Luke

By Ron Luke

The main characters in this little story are myself, my two good friends Hippo and (as he later became known) Johan. Just for your reference Kev, Johan was one of your last students. You did a two way with him out in Norway for his 100th BASE jump. Last but not least, the getaway driver was my lovely and long suffering wife Jo.

Every day I take the train into and out of work and pass a tasty selection of objects along the way, but one in particular had been playing on my mind. The new FlatIron building had topped out and workers were due to be moved into it within a few weeks.

It’s within the centre of the financial district and as soon as the construction workers were moved out I knew it’d go from the “to do” list to the “wish I’d done it” list. She’s the new headquarters for a leading global financial institution and is proudly advertised as being the world’s first terrorist proof building.

I spent most of my next day off freezing, whilst I watched how the building operated and checked out the security of the surrounding buildings too. The surrounding buildings are absolutely superb, but the security layers employed make them near impossible.

If you’ve ever flown out of Eilat I suspect that you’re almost getting there in terms of the paranoia these guys suffer from. I realised that they were a lost cause when I figured out that the dozen sharp looking, well built, crew cut sporting, Armani wearing blokes hanging around the reception area were in fact undercover security.

So back to the FlatIron building. It’s still had loads of construction workers milling about and therefore could never be as secure. They are issued with photo ID and are checked at one of two security huts. They wear yellow flourescent Hi Vis and white hard hats and seem to mill about unchecked once inside. I note two possible entry points, suitable for our purposes.

The next day on the train into work I take another longing glance at her and ring Hippo to see if he might be interested. I explain to him that I see her twice a day and that she’s been taunting me; that it’s only a few more weeks she might be jumpable. Hippo is already familiar with this area and agrees that we stand a very high chance of being caught, possibly before we even take our rigs out of our stash bags, but that it’s worth it to both of us. We discuss entry and exit strategies and whether anyone else might want to come. We decide that a third person will only increase our chances of being caught a bit, but a forth will turn capture into a dead certainty. We decide that Johan might like to come and I ring him. He’s well up for it and not too bothered about the possibility of being caught.

Throughout that day we all remain in contact discussing this jump. We agreed that the winds were as good as they are likely to get and certainly going in the right direction. We decide to give it a go that night. I ring Jo and inform her that her that I’d like her to drive the getaway car and could she possibly meet me there straight after work at midnight with my rig, body armour and helmet.

We meet at the appointed car park and discuss the plan in detail, so that everyone is aware of what should happen and where we should be, what the escape plan will be and so on. Hippo has acquired three yellow Hi Vi vests and white hard hats for us. Jo drops us as close to the complex’s security check point as she can without us being noticed and we start walking in.

We’ve just negotiated the first secured gate directly under a check point and are hiding in the shadows watching the movements of the workers in the compound when a really loud angry voice apparently shouts at us “Oi, stay right there!”. We all think that the game is up, at the very first hurdle no less. Johan even says we should just go out now, but Hippo & I are in agreement that whoever it is can damn well come in and get us.

We stay there and carry on watching and nothing comes of angry man for at least ten minutes. While we’re watching we establish two further hitches: our chosen entry point is next to the site’s portabogs (which we knew about), but the portacabin next door to them is a tea room and there is no way of knowing when a worker might emerge from there.

We’ll just have to take our chances climbing over the seven foot high noisy spiked fence. It’s also become painfully obvious that the night workers are in fact all wearing orange Hi Vi vests- we’re going to stick out like bollocks on a Bulldog with our yellow vests. We all agree to press on and wait for a gap in the traffic passing to and from the portacabins.

When it’s as quiet as it’s going to get we tackle the fence. One climbs while the other two try to stop the fence making a noise that would wake the dead.

We’re directly underneath another security cabin, so the need for subtlety outweighs the need for quick access. Subsequently we’re visible for an uncomfortably lengthy time, especially when Hippo gets hung up on a spike through his jacket and we have to lift him back up and over it again.

Once we’re all over the fence it’s time to don our Hi Vis and hard hats. We’re now into the compound proper and it’s time to start looking like we belong there, or at least as well as we can with our yellow Hi Vis and our 20lb all black back packs. Hands in pockets, slouching and taking on a disinterested air, we start to wander towards where we imagine the access to the basement might be; trying all the while to look like we know exactly where we’re going whilst scanning around for the way in. We pass several workers and they pay us no attention what so ever.

We find the access to the basement and there’s a security guard sitting right next to it, just out of sight around a concrete pillar. All he’s got to do is lean forward and he can see anything we’re doing. Hippo and Johan stand to one side, trying unsuccessfully to be blend in, whilst I take care of the security mechanism on the gate.

Then the makeshift gate needs to be opened enough for us to slip through, so I lift it up and start to move it to one side. The sound of the steel gate scraping on the concrete floor is excruciating and the already wide eyed Hippo and Johan leap to my assistance, as we try to minimise the noise. Incredibly, the guard pays us no attention and we’re in!

We calmly walk around the corner and into the basement of the building and everyone breaks out into their own little celebratory jig: “we’re in, we’re in, we’re in!” Then it dawns on us that we’re in the centre of a very large building with no signs up yet and we’re largely clueless as to where the stairs are. It quickly degenerates into a farce as we all peer through different doors looking for any clues as to where we need to be headed.

Ten minutes of this and we stumble across a set of stairs and an elevator. Johan dives in with eyes lit up like a kid in a toy store, but Hippo & I agree that we’re too close to our prize to be denied it by some fancy software alerting security to an unauthorised elevator movement- we’ll be taking the stairs.

After a seriously sweaty climb we get to the top floor and start casting about for access to the roof. We’ve barely arrived there when we can hear workers getting closer to us. It looks like our luck might be running out and we won’t find a way up when I remember that high rise workers are thse days demanding easy access to the roof, so that they at least have the option of helicopter rescue- there’s got to be an escape hatch somewhere.

Johan walks around the corner and there it is: small, but with its very own ladder attached to it. We considered whether the hatch might be alarmed or not, but the ever closer voices of workers became more important. Without further delay we’re on the roof and looking out over the beautiful night time panorama of our city.

With no further need for the Hi Vis and hard hats, we neatly roll them up, stuff them under some pipes and start to kit up. I ring Jo and tell her that we’ve reached the roof and will give her a five minute call. Apparently we’ve taken almost two hours so far and she’s nearly finished her book.

We confirm the exit order and escape plans. Hippo broke both his legs only a few months earlier and is still suffering a great deal of pain: he goes first. I’m a heavy smoker and want to be next off as soon as he’s clear and Johan is off last. Kit checks and customary funky hand shakes out the way, I ring Jo and tell her we’re off soon. As soon as the first canopy opened the clock would be ticking and she’ll drive up to the nearest check point to her, swing a u turn just before it and pull up where we intended to climb out of our chosen landing area.

Hippo jumps and has a perfect opening. As soon as he’s clear I’m off. I can’t imagine the building’s designers had BASE jumpers in mind, but I was looking at the floors as I fell past them and the dimmed night time lights were all different colours and gradients of each colour. It was a fantastic show, a lot like looking into a brilliant and very big kaleidoscope.

I have a similarly great opening and follow Hippo into our intended landing area where we both have good landings. We gather up our canopies and run like lunatics to the shadow of the wall we need to climb over. Both hands are needed to get over this wall so we stuff just our canopies in their stash bags to swing over the top of our harnesses. Still no sign of Johan- where the fuck his he? I’m scanning wildly round for him but I can’t see him. Hippo, who is frantically stashing his canopy, has time to reassure me that Johan is fine and tells me to hurry up.

Meanwhile I’m seriously puffed out from running. I’m experiencing tunnel vision and seeing stars big time. Later I figured out that it was a big mistake to run with my full face helmet on: I’ve been breathing the same depleted air I’d just breathed out and I’m so starved of oxygen I almost don’t give a shit.

I’m standing on Hippo’s canopy while he tries to stash it and not really doing very well stashing my own (I think I even tried to stash some of his canopy in my bag). I get my canopy stashed as Hippo climbs the wall and then start to struggle with the simple process of putting my filled stash bag over the top of my harness to climb out.

I’m starting to get some fresh oxygen again (I’ve still got my full face on) and become vaguely aware that Johan is looking over the wall and beckoning me to start climbing. I just about had the presence of mind to wonder how the hell he suddenly appeared there when he told me that a security Jeep was pulling up. I heard Hippo shout “Go, Go, Go!” and Jo roaring off down the road, followed almost instantaneously by “Stop! Let’s go back.”

(Quick mental note to self at this point: need to mention to wife during later debrief the importance of having spouse in getaway car before charging off. Must not be too hard on her, though. She’s clearly working to the greater good of the group and obviously has an excited Hippo screaming orders in her ear.)

Then Johan (who was man handling me over the wall at this point) told me we were caught. As I get my legs over four security guards close round the pair of us and grab us and Johan shouts “It’s o.k., I’ve got him!” I looked at him as if he’d gone utterly mad, before I realised that he’d somehow gotten rid of all his gear and had morphed into an innocent bystander.

In fact, he’d not just become an innocent bystander, but a bloody have a go hero, apprehending errant BASE jumpers in his spare time, when he’s on his way home from the pub.

I take my helmet off and once the guards realised that I was in no fit state to leg it they let me finish stashing my gear. Hippo had decided to go back when a security guard had made a wild grab for the back of the rapidly departing car and fell flat on his face.

Hippo felt that he should be with us too. Only later did it emerge exactly how Johan had miraculously appeared by the car: After we’d both jumped he decided that his best hope for escape would be to hop and pop and fly directly over our landing area to the road. He’d taken a down wind, down hill landing on half brakes, having had to flare his canopy to avoid landing on a black cab that was passing underneath. Jo said that a double decker bus had to swerve round him, but after he’d shot up a lamp post to retrieve his canopy he had his rig and helmet off super quick and in the back of our car.

The police didn’t take long to get there and obviously they wanted mine and Hippo’s details and ID. The head of security turned up and wanted to know how we’d managed to get in and onto the roof. He kept shaking his head and saying that they were on a very high security alert, having received a specific threat from the people that know. He was not a happy bunny that we’d managed to waltz into the building unchallenged with all our gear.

The more senior policeman mentioned that he’d been in attendance at a previous BASE jump that hadn’t gone quite so well, number 23 on Nick’s list and I thought he might have a problem with us, but he turned out to be pretty cool about it all. He even asked me “what delay did you take before you threw your drogue out?”

The head of security (still shaking his head and looking pretty embarrassed) was still asking us for details on how we got in. We’d told him as much as we’d needed to convince them that we hadn’t done any damage to gain access, which would have been a police matter.

The police pressed us on the third jumper that apparently escaped and Hippo told them he was a visiting Belgian jumper called Johan that we’d never met before, that we’d hooked up with on the internet that day. Dubiously noting this down, they asked “ I don’t suppose you have a surname for this mysterious Belgian jumper that you just met on the internet?” I offered Hannes and the copper sarcasticaly mumbled “Johan Hannes” as he noted it in his little book. (Deepest apologies if there is in fact a Belgian jumper out there with that name, BTW.)

All the while Johan is playing up the innocent bystander beautifully. He’s asking me and Hippo “So what’s it like to jump then?” and we’re having to answer these questions as sincerely as we can to play along. “I could never do that, you lot are completely crazy”. I’ve got to turn away at this point, I can’t risk giving his game away. Then he’s taking pictures on his mobile phone of us with the Police, us with the security (who were extremely uncomfortable about that), him smiling with us looking caught. I can see at least one of the security guys and one of the coppers paying undue attention to Johan’s Hanwag boots, which I guess they probably thought bore an curious similarity to mine and Hippo’s, but nothing was said.

Meanwhile, Hippo and I are doing our utmost best to be as polite to the security and police as we can and try to avoid appearing evasive with their questions. Hippo had even helped up the guy that fell over trying to catch him. We made it clear that we understood that they had their job to do and maybe on this occasion it might have conflicted with our passion somewhat. I suspected that we might have got them on our side to a certain extent when one of the security guards (who was clearly a Northerner himself) started ribbing Hippo, calling him a “daft Northern monkey”.

The head of security asked for a private word with the police and after several minutes came back and advised us that no police action would be taken. Myself and Hippo were issued with notices from the complex security banning us for six months from entering the financial district and it was witnessed by the police. They let on that they’d been asked to detain us if possible because the head of security for the building wanted to question us and that he was hopping mad, but that they couldn’t see how they could possibly hold us any longer from a legal stand point.

As an interesting and argueably ironic sidenote, it later transpired that the then head of security for the building (that we never got to meet, thankfully) is a skydiver from one of the larger drop zones in the area. Apparently he took more than his fair share of abuse over this little incident.

We all went to McDonalds and (possibly for the first time and last time) we all had very Happy Meals.

Submitted by Ron Luke on 2007-06-19 | Last Modified by melmel on 2007-07-03

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.  | Votes: 23 | Comments: 6 | Views: 6675

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5 out of 5 stars Shit I don't know how you could retain your laughs with him taking photos and playing the comedy!
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Phenomenal story. I was literally laughing out loud (which I don't do very often for stories or movies). I have had a few encounters here and there, but none NEARLY as entertaining as this. Cheers to your mate for playing things so well. Sounds like you have a great crew.

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Phenomenal story. I was literally laughing out loud (which I don't do very often for stories or movies). I have had a few encounters here and there, but none NEARLY as entertaining as this. Cheers to your mate for playing things so well. Sounds like you have a great crew.

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5 out of 5 stars Great story :) Is it possible to view some pix? Which Flatiron Building? Is it THE Flatiron Building?

Happy safe holidays to all!
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5 out of 5 stars Fantastic story! Hilarious!
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