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BASE Jumping: Articles: Stories: The Early Days of Carl Boenish

The Early Days of Carl Boenish new


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Chet Atlas skydiving in 1963

In the early 1960’s, I used to have a girlfriend who lived in Hawthorne, California. She had a sister who had a boyfriend. We called him Ron but he later changed his name to Carl Boenish. We all hung around together and went out on cheap foursomes. Carl and I used to play pool and Carl loved to talk about the science of pool and “perfect elasticity” (which had something to do with “conservation of momentum”, I think). He was always enthusiastic and had an opinion about everything. I think, these days, we might describe someone like that as a “presence.” We used to argue and then bet on everything. I think, mostly, he won. He was pretty good at pool, too.

He was also sometimes brash and abrasive, expansive, and very smart. We used to egg each other on to do stuff. So, when we found out that you could jump from an airplane (and probably live) we got on the phone. Then we drove an old wreck (it kept breaking down) in the hotter-than-blazes desert heat out to Elsinore--I was there recently and it looks like a resort spot compared to the two falling-apart shacks with corrugated roofs we found there. We paid our twenty five bucks (a monumental amount in 1962) and went through the “course” which consisted of jumping off a small wooden platform and rolling (no one ever considered you could do a standup landing and not break your ankle!). We got pretty dirty rolling around in that summer dust. We practiced getting in and out of the one plane they had. I’ve forgotten what it was but it didn’t inspire confidence.

We got in the plane, got our static lines hooked up, and chugged up to 2500 feet. I was in last so I got out first, was away, and then Carl got out. I don’t know whether he was nervous or not but I remember being fairly silent while he kept talking a blue streak. We landed about a quarter of a mile away. I had done my requisite jump and was ready to head home but Carl couldn’t wait to get up again. And he kept talking! A mile a minute. I think he made two more jumps that day (five bucks each) and was trying to con them into letting him off the static line early. He was good but…no dice. We came back later and for every jump I made, he made two or three, four.

My girlfriend moved away, he and his girlfriend parted ways, and I lost track of him. The next time I saw him was on T.V. and he was interviewing Linus Pauling, a hugely respected professor and researcher at U.C.L.A. Actually, I think Pauling was interviewing him. I remember that I had never seen Carl in a suit and tie before. He looked kind of funny. Later, I was on an international flight to Europe and one of Carl’s films came on. It was well done, I remember.

I was sorry to hear that he had died in Norway. I think he was 21 and I was 22 when we made our first jumps. My guess is that he was only around 43 or so when he died. I’m now 71 and I’ve often thought of the things he was not able to do in all the years that I’ve had but that were cut short for him. Even so, in the time he lived, he was no small force. Yes, I remember him as opinionated, brash, sometime abrasive, a damn good pool player, innovative, and gutsy. But he affected all those around him and he made a mark. History, or at least the history of the sport, is different because of him.

Chet Atlas


Submitted by on 2011-11-01

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