Bridge Day, 2004
Photos: Vertical Visions
More than 390 BASE jumpers made 645 jumps from the 876’ tall New River Gorge Bridge during a rainy 25th annual Bridge Day celebration in Fayetteville, West Virginia. The October 16th silver celebration of Bridge Day allowed for legal BASE jumps for six hours from the world's second longest single arch bridge, although a mid-day storm halted jumping for approximately 25 minutes.
Bridge Day continues to be the largest extreme sports event in the world held on the third Saturday in October every year in Fayetteville, West Virginia. Bridge Day is unique in that it is the only day visitors may walk across the bridge, BASE jumpers can parachute from the railing, and rappellers are allowed to descend and ascend fixed ropes. Bridge Day is West Virginia's largest one-day festival and is rated one of the top 100 festivals in North America. Despite the weather, the crowd was estimated at 75,000 to 100,000 this year.
Four jumpers were transported to the hospital, but only one sustained injuries requiring further care. Several rappellers dangling below the bridge required rescues during the high winds that hampered the event at approximately 1:30pm. "Despite the fact that I broke a few bones, spent most of the jumping hours in the ER, was pummeled by the storm that came through when I finally did get back onto the bridge, and the fact that this year had the worst weather out of all four years I've been to Bridge Day, I still had the most fun", reported California jumper Russel Metlisky. "This year was the first year I really felt like I was a real part of the BASE jumping community. And that's what Bridge Day seems to be about, the people…oh yeah, and some jumping as well."
Russel, paralyzed in a motorcycle accident in 2000, was awarded paraplegic BASE #1 by Nick Di Giovanni during the post-jump party. A special exit bar was constructed by the Vertical Visions crew so that Russel could sit at the end of the exit ramp, then hang from the bar before releasing himself into a 2-3 second stowed free fall.
BASE jumpers have jumped from the New River Gorge Bridge every year since the first Bridge Day on November 8, 1980 (the only exception being the cancellation of Bridge Day 2001 shortly after 9/11). The first Bridge Day saw five skydivers making BASE jumps from the bridge in the early days of the sport of BASE jumping. Over the years, Bridge Day became the place for thousands of skydivers to make their first BASE jump.
The average Bridge Day 2004 BASE jumper was 35 years old and had performed 64 BASE jumps and 1199 skydives. Approximately 11.1% of all participants were female. Nearly 100 jumpers made their first BASE jump at Bridge Day this year with the help of free first BASE jump courses, packing classes, and the guidance and knowledge shared by hundreds of experienced jumpers.
Most jumpers fell from the bridge for 3-4 seconds before deploying their parachute. The next 20-30 seconds were spent floating down to the designated landing zone located within a National Park (New River Gorge National River). Every year, the National Park Service issues a permit to land parachutes on park property during Bridge Day. BASE jumping in all other National Parks is illegal, although recent efforts to change decades of rubber stamped denials are underway by groups such as the Alliance of Backcountry Parachutists.
A $250 cash purse, along with a variety of other gifts donated by sponsors around the world, was up for grabs for the annual Bridge Day accuracy contest. Competition rules required jumpers to hit the accuracy pad without falling to the ground or they would not be scored. Brian Daniska from Ohio took first place, Todd Griswald from Arkansas came in second, and Anthony White from Canada was third.
Notable jumps include those made from a boom truck basket, a scissor lift, and the popular 16’ commercial aluminum diving board. The Red Bull Air Force performed two "rope swing" stunts where one jumper swung underneath a second jumper who was already under canopy. The first jumper would then cutaway from the rope and deploy his own parachute, which got the crowd pretty excited.
Triax Productions, who filmed the Bridge Day event for a soon to be released DVD, premiered their "Continuum II" video at the post-jump party in front of hundreds of jumpers. The Bridge Day 2004 DVD will be available by the end of the year at www.triaxproductions.com . Earlier in the week, the Bridge Day 2004 BASE VideoFest awarded "Continuum II" by Triax Productions with first place, followed by a "Mexico BASE" video by Adrenaline Exploits (Jay Epstein). Third place went to Robert Pecnik of Phoenix Fly and his amazing BASE wingsuit and track pants footage.
Bridge Day was broadcast on live TV to over 1 million households throughout West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio - perhaps the first live broadcast of a BASE jumping event in the US. While some technical glitches kept wireless cameras on jumpers and at other vantage points from airing, the broadcast was revolutionary in that it focused on the technical aspects of BASE jumping. Interviews explaining the components of a BASE rig were shown to educate the public. Extensive jumping footage provided by Vertical Visions and Red Bull started and ended many commercial breaks, adding to the experience. A condensed one-hour version of the Bridge Day 2004 Live TV broadcast will air on the Outdoor Life Network (OLN) on November 12 from 12:30-1:30pm EST and on December 9 from 12-1pm EST in front of 60 million households across the US.
"This year, BASE jumpers battled their way through some of the worst weather since 1992, my first year here", reports Jason Bell, Bridge Day 2004 BASE Jumping Co-organizer. "However, we still got to jump for the majority of the day, everyone got to jump at least once (one jumper made five jumps), and it was definitely my favorite Bridge Day from both a jumping and organizing point of view". Jason was assisted this year by his wife Jennifer, co-organizer Bill Bird from Canton, Ohio, and more than 75 staff members.
Vertical Visions’ plans for next year include the expansion of Bridge Day beyond the standard six hours, in addition to a device that will permit spectators to pull a lever and drop a jumper from a long plank, similar to a dunking booth. "We’re going to charge spectators to pull the lever and give the money to charity. Now, I just have to figure out how to make it", reports Jason.
For those considering the jump next year, registration for Bridge Day 2005 starts on July 1, 2005 at www.bridgeday.info .
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