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Media Life: BASE tandem jumps in Foresthill Bridge future?

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn-area bridge, California's highest and owned by Placer County, could be in conversation for jumps that are already in Moab, Utah and Twin Falls, Idaho AUBURN CA - Tandem jumps, pairing an experienced skydiver with a newbie, have opened up the adrenaline-charged sport to a broader base of prospective thrill seekers over the past two decades. And now the tandem concept has started to take hold with the BASE-jumping community. A recent New York Times article on tandem BASE jumping businesses starting in Twin Falls, Idaho and Moab, Utah, shows that it can be done and begs the question: Could tandem jumps be in the future for the Foresthill Bridge? While legal and jurisdictional challenges would obviously be in the offing for a willing entrepreneur with a goal of establishing a tandem jump opportunity at the 730-foot-high Auburn-area landmark, the early answer is, yes. Based on background information from Martin Tilley, president of Auburn’s Asylum Designs, on logistics, a regular tandem jump from the bridge seems entirely doable on paper. The Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls is 486 feet above the Snake River canyon floor and is well-used by BASE jumpers. Starting last year, a business called Tandem BASE has been providing tandem jumps. The Times article reports that some 200 people have paid $400 to make the dual leap off the span – considered the most popular BASE launch pad in the nation. It’s no secret that Foresthill Bridge BASE jumps are normally illegal but the lure of parachuting from 730 feet off the side has proven an irresistible elixir for many. Free falling in 1990s The closest the bridge came to actually having free use of the span for BASE jumps were several exhilarating days in the springs of 1996 and 1997 and early summer of 1998, when the world’s premiere cliff jumper, Will Oxx, of Thousand Oaks, rounded up some of the nation’s most experienced BASE jumpers for a nebulous film shoot. Two-day permits were issued and it was common for 100 jumps to be made daily. BASE, by the way, is an acronym for buildings, antennas, spans (bridges) and Earth. Bridges are considered the safest jumps because there is little to get in a jumper’s way once the fall starts. While the videos shot in the late 1990s didn’t turn into anything palpable, the BASE-jumping community put on a spectacular show. Recreational flight from the fabled span was banned in 1984 but the rules were relaxed by Placer County, state and federal officials to allow the brief window of filming. While the Perrine Bridge has a height disadvantage, the Auburn site has a more narrow landing area. But skilled BASE jumpers in a tandem jump could still take the plunge, the experts say. And with the bridge being expanded to three lanes of traffic from two by filling in the middle area, any event with jumps from the railing would still allow two-way traffic. The higher bridge railing – 6.5 feet instead of the current 4 feet – shouldn’t be a hindrance if a temporary staircase with a base at the top is installed. Even a more practical option would be to remove the BASE jumping from the top of the bridge and move it onto the catwalk that is being upgraded underneath. That would cut down on any disruptions to traffic and give tandem jumpers a leap with fewer obstacles. Insurance relatively low The Times article also quotes insurance numbers for the Moab business – which takes tandem jumpers off cliffs. The Bureau of Land Management allowed that endeavor to go forward with insurance covering up to $1 million an accident and a total of $2 million per year. Moab B.A.S.E. Adventures is paying $4,500 a year for insurance while charging between $399 and $599 per jump, depending on the location. According to the United State Parachute Association, there are now about 500,000 tandem jumps a year across the country. Tandem BASE jumps are new but they seem to be establishing a foothold. And the Foresthill Bridge could again on the radar for future legal jumps. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com. Also hear Thomson most Fridays at 6 p.m. on Dave Rosenthal’s drive-time radio show on KAHI 950 AM. And you can catch up with Thomson on Twitter at AJ_Media_Life.