J
ust before sunset on May 16, Dean Potter and Graham Hunt, both wearing wingsuits, stood at the summit of Taft Point in Yosemite National Park. For the past 20 years, Potter had represented the boldest outcropping of free soloing climbers and BASE jumpers; he holds the world record for the longest BASE jump in a wingsuit and was continually pushing the sport forward despite objections from sponsors and friends. Hunt climbed the ranks more quietly, outside of the spotlight, but was well known among in the community for his talent. On the night of the 16th, both men jumped, an activity that’s illegal in federal parks, aiming to glide through a notch in the ridge across the canyon. It will likely never be known exactly what occurred as the two made their approach, but both men died while attempting to traverse the notch. Their parachutes never deployed.

Less than two months later, on July 3rd, Jhonathan Florez, another giant in the world of BASE jumping who holds the record for highest altitude jump and longest flight duration in a wingsuit, died while training in Switzerland. Together, Potter, Hunt and Florez represent three of the 15 BASE-related deaths that have occurred since the start of 2015, according to a list maintained by BLiNC Magazine. But the level of collective experience between the three jumpers stirred up decades-old conversations about the risks in the sport, and what can be done to minimize them.

“Make Dean and Graham’s deaths the catalyst to legalize BASE jumping in these parks. Fill the skies with flyers, not the courts.”

BASE jumping — an acronym that stands for building, antenna, span and Earth, the four surfaces from which individuals jump with parachutes strapped to their backs — began in the late 1970s. Wingsuit BASE jumping, a subsect of the sport that came along in the late ’90s, is a variation in which fabric suits allow jumpers to glide through the air, piloting their own bodies.

At first, wingsuiting was slow to catch on. “It just felt like skydiving in a straightjacket. If the other skydivers were skateboarders, then the wingsuiters were the roller skaters,” said 38-year-old Jeff Provenzano, who jumps for Red Bull. “It wasn’t until dudes started jumping off of cliffs in wingsuits, when you saw the first proxy flight, when dudes started flying next to the rocks. Remember those geeky costumes? Check out what they are doing with it now!”

As the popularity of BASE jumping and wingsuit flying increased, so too did the incidents. According to the data maintained by BLiNC Magazine, 2014 was the worst year for BASE jumping fatalities, with 24 deaths. The second worst was 2013; the third, 2012. A decade-long study of BASE jumps at Kjerag Massif in Norway, a popular hiking destination, found that one in every 2,317 jumps was fatal, a fatality rate that’s orders of magnitude higher than any other sport.

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