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The Pact

by Nick Di Giovanni

By Nick Di Giovanni - August 1999

While we wait for the facts to surface surrounding Daniel’s death in Norway, I’d like to add some historical perspective. This does not concern the cause of the accident, rather it’s more about the events that followed.

Ever since Larry Jackson died in Colorado’s Black Canyon in 1982 the sport of BASE jumping has grappled with this problem. Larry owns the dubious honor of being the first modern BASE fatality in the United States. This also is the jump the earned BASE jumpers the reputation of leaving their dead or injured behind. (A fact Park Rangers never miss a chance to relate)

No one, except the jumpers on the load, knew exactly what happened in the Black Canyon that day, or what happened in Norway recently, but to understand how someone could possibly be left behind you must understand the sport itself, and more so the meaning of “The Pact.”

Four BASE jumpers are planning an illegal cliff jump. Jumper number one has a federal job with the post office. Jumper number two is in the military. Jumper number three has been arrested twice already for BASE jumping and jumper number four is just starting out. In the course of planning the jump they come to the part about what to do if the worst happens. They have three options:

  1. Everybody splits.
  2. Everybody stays.
  3. One stays behind, and everybody else splits.
Yes, it is cold and heartless. But it’s the way of it. These are adults playing a dangerous game.

When Susan Oatly hit the wall of El Cap and died in Yosemite the “Everybody Splits Pact” is in effect. But when the time to go comes one of the jumpers backs out of the “Pact” announcing an intention to stay. While the jumper is successful in leading the rescue effort, (he said the rescue personal would never have found the body as they had no idea where to look) for his trouble he’s rewarded with a very horrendous three day tour of the Yosemite justice system. Refusing to name the other jumpers he is threatened with man slaughter charges, his vehicle is impounded, they play good ranger bad ranger with him, and he’s put in with gang bangers, the whole nine yards…

I’ve never entered into a “Everybody Splits Pact” I always figured I could do the time or I could pay the fine. But that fellow who has 14 years in with the post office, or the guy with a military career to consider, or the fellow facing a third arrest, well, I can see that.

BASE jumping is “the original” extreme sport, and it’s not for everyone. If you are going to play this game you must make room for the possibility that it can be the death of you. More so, your friends and family should be aware of your activities. It’s much better if you explain BASE jumping to them, the draw it has, the danger in it, and most of all why you love it so. In the end it may save your family from wondering why….

Submitted by Nick Di Giovanni on 2007-06-19

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