If your friend jumps off a bridge does that mean you should too? Moms’ old admonition doesn’t mean what it used to as BASE jumpers, friends of my mine, are leaping from high dangerous spots all over the world. Sorry mom. I can’t wait to try it.
About a week ago I watched for the first time as a friend hurled himself off the bridge that spans the New River Gorge in Fayetteville, West Virginia. I’ll refer to him only as my friend because a jump from this 876-foot structure is illegal. And though he landed safely with the aid of a parachute, twice in fact, I don’t want to see him get into trouble.
Certainly my friend risked his own life and potentially put others in danger (but that’s a stretch). As a legal matter BASE-jumping, in my opinion, is a victimless crime that, rather than prosecution, deserves recognition as a legitimate sport and regulation by a body of experts to assure its safety.
Not unlike any hazardous sport BASE-jumping offers many inherent risks. But these risks are mitigated with training and experience. The two jumps depicted in this short film were the latest of more than 65 successful dives from an Antenna, a Span or the Earth.
“I’m only an ASE-jumper,” my friend said. “I haven’t jumped from a building yet.”
Prior to hurdling himself off landed structures, my friend first received instruction in skydiving, jumping from airplanes. He learned to pack his own shoot and properly maintain his equipment. Safety among BASE-jumpers is their first concern. Should I take up the sport and can assure you that I’ll take every precaution and learn important skills before I even attempt a jump from a great height. And though many people have died while BASE-jumping despite their advance preparation, as in any risky venture, those who do it accept the danger as an intrinsic aspect of the sport they love.
What remains to be considered is the crime of trespass, when BASE-jumpers like my friend seek and acquire unlawful access to private or public property to ply their skills. While there are many legal places from which to plummet these guarded and prohibited spots bring with them a different kind of risk that’s also quite alluring. That begs the question: should illegal BASE-jumpers who land successfully be prosecuted if they are caught? As long as they do not damage property or cause harm to others should they be fined or incarcerated?
I for one believe they should not. What do you think? Greater risk would likely ensue should BASE-jumpers try to flee from authorities, taking flight desperate not to get caught. But there would also be the risk of chaotic lawlessness should BASE-jumpers of varying degrees of experience and expertise attempt leaps without the fear of legal ramifications. What’s to stop them?
It’s human nature to explore and push the boundaries of our natural environment, our comfort zone. Adventure is the acceptance of risk in the hope of an ecstatic experience that will affirm the very life we put on the line. The alternative is a life without passion or purpose tethered to the Earth chained down in an existence of mediocrity. The law and safety not withstanding there will always be an intense appeal to those of adventurous spirit with the utter audacity to presume that they can fly.
Happy landings. -JEM
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