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BASE Jumping: Articles: Stories: Steve Morrell Stories: "Dead Steve: One Lucky Bastard!"

Steve Morrell Stories: "Dead Steve: One Lucky Bastard!" new

by JD Walker/BASE37
Our story begins with a forwarded Email from an old buddy of mine, Nick Bender.

In the usual course of a days emails, Nick was kind enough to forward an email from someone who knew Steve, and was talking to Nick – and Nick knew I held Steve near and dear as a friend. I met Nick at the old Wildhorse West dropzone in NW Phoenix, about 1980 or maybe 1981. Its about then that Carl Boenish and a few others were starting to experiment with flinging their mortal bodies off things – not out of things, but off of things - and saving their lives at the last second with a parachute, from other cliffs than El Cap. All since a few, idiot jack-asses, (if you’re one of ‘em, yea, I’m talking about you) couldn’t follow a few, simple rules, and got the once legal El Cap closed down……IDIOTS…..

It’s Nick’s fault I’m a convicted trespasser and a wanted BASE jumper……did he and Steve Morrell ever do a paternity test to confirm they weren’t at least half-brothers? I must ask, because they were both wild eyed crazy men and both got me into trouble – hah! (I should’ve been a lib, ‘cause I blame others for everything…..)

Steve and I met purely by chance, at the Lodi drop zone, in California, in 1984 I believe, when I was trying to snivel on a load, as I was a stranger there, and this charismatic guy walks up and says “I’ll jump with ya”, and off we went – a 4 way followed by, at this guys’ suggestion, a 3500’ pull and a 4 way CRW stack - Ken on top, Steve was #2, and then me - a poor approach, too hot of a dock, and a total wrap…..shit !!!!.....

The moron above us got scared, and dropped us, not good. As we were descending, fairly rapidly, I was asking Steve, “what do you want to do?” - he was, after a few gyrations, turned 180 degrees, facing me, and trapped in my cascades……and he finally asked me to cut away – to which I replied no – and he, being the rational, cool and calm dude he was, kept asking if I could see this line, or that line, asking “whats hanging up”, etc, and about 12-1300’ or so, finally, he calmly, coolly, says “I’d appreciate it if you’d just cut away” –

So, fearing I would leave him totally screwed, and just knowing his reserve would just get entangled with his main, and for the hundredth time asking “are you sure ?” I did as he asked. I chopped it, and took as long as a delay as I could (before I got scared and pulled, truth be told!), saddled out, probably about 500’ or so, and scanning upwards, straining to see what was happening above me, I see this body go whizzing by…..Dead Steve, in total freefall……. and, maybe at about 400’, or less, he arched, pulled, and his reserve opened, way below me, the canopy breathed, turned slightly, and he hit the ground. Wow. A 5 second ride, at best……that lucky bastard, I’m saying out loud… middle of a bunch of grape vine stakes, great place to impale oneself’ should one desire……

I landed only a few yards away, and, seeing him gathering up his stuff, apparently no worse for the wear, it dawned upon me this guy is probably pissed at me for the hot dock, hostilities could be in my immediate future……there goes my pretty face…..

Asking if he were OK, he laughed loudly and said, a phrase I would become very familiar with, “never had so much fun in my life!”

That was our first 30 minutes together…….

That night, after being invited to hang at his place, we were drinking beer, some of the guys partaking in other vices, and packing parachutes – it was dark, and Steve was about to start packing, when he shouts out “ I feel lucky, lets go do the bridge!” That would be the 740’ high Auburn bridge, east of Sacramento. It was a local favorite of the BASE jumpers in the area, and I had wanted to do it, but jeez, not tonight……I had just had the shit scared out of me earlier that afternoon and I was calming down by indulging in a few beers, and I was buzzed – as was Steve and the others – but that didn’t stop Steve! He packed for the bridge, as I did also, after being pressured by the group – Steve Morrell, chief antagonist!

There was a group of us, and I cant recall everyone, but I do remember Dave Majors (aka “Clem”) jumping first, and landing OK, then Steve hurriedly threw his rig on, and without a pin check, jumped up on the rail, and with a holler of “wet death”, hopped off, and promptly threw out a pilot chute in tow – very, very bad – and as we watched in stunned horror, he looked over his shoulder at it, reached and pulled his reserve. We watched it happen, as if in slow motion, his reserve deploy, it finally blossomed, and Steve hit the water – 1 second later, he would’ve went in – again, the second time today, I’m saying WOW ……that lucky bastard !!!!

Alas, lucky mans’ trouble was not quite over yet. As the reserve canopy settled into the fast moving river, it inflated in the current and away goes Steve – shit, he survived the jump, only to drown……as it turned out, Clem was finally able to get into the water and help rescue him, a little worse for wear. When we finally got down to the bottom and met them, he was absolutely exhausted, soaking wet, but, with a shit-eatin’ grin says – “never had so much fun in my life”

All this, start to finish, in about a 12 hour span…….”Dead Steve”, my new friend, was truly “a lucky bastard”!

As much fun as that day was, we went on to make many great trips together, I introduced Steve to my secret spots in Lake Powell, where we made several trips together, (Steve broke his ankle on a wall strike there) and those trips are a hoot in their own right, as well as our little “shit tower”, just south of Phoenix, all 290’ of it – we made tons of jumps of that - and some fun places in our local lakes, little cliffs from 150 – 300’, and the famous Burro Creek bridge, those were fun.

We also put a trip or two together to N/E Arizona, to Canyon De Chelly, where we watched a friend slam into a huge rock a break his foot up bad – that was not good. We got some commercial quality footage out of that trip – you may have seen video of it – as well as a trip to Yosemite, where we missed each other at the hookup spot and hiked up without him, and, as luck would have it, we got caught, and Steve didn’t – (again, that lucky bastard!). On that episode, I was able to beat the Federal government out of the charges, and my experiences were the foundation for many others, including Steve later on, to beat them at there own game. (that is a great story in its own too).

There you go - a little taste of my experience with an incredible man, a true friend and certified crazy guy! Thank you for allowing my to share, with a big grin on my face, your brothers life – never forget him.

My Best,
JD Walker
Grand Canyon #1
Night BASE 25
Arizona BASE #1
Night AZ BASE #1
World’s lowest FF parachute jump, 3 times (290’, 180’, 102’)

{Major Stephen A. Morrell (USAF) was a pioneer in many areas of skydiving, including CRW and BASE jumping. 1956-1996}

Stephen A. Morrell Memorial Site & Foundation

Submitted by JD Walker/BASE37 on 2009-12-20

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I miss Steve. I made my first jump with Steve and JD Walker and Kenn Noble in 1992. I didn't do so welll on the first jump but came back and made 650 BASE jumps since.

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