On the lookout

Published 9:52 pm Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More than 450 homes in North Suffolk lost electricity after three people jumped from a television tower and hit a power line early Wednesday morning.

Police are still looking for the jumpers.

According to city spokesperson Debbie George, witnesses told police they saw three people parachuting from the WVEC television tower, located near the intersection of Nansemond Parkway and Shoulders Hill Road. The witness also reported seeing the power lines struck, and sparks igniting from the lines.

“We don’t know if the person struck the line, or the chute, or what happened,” George said.

By 6:35 a.m., 478 Dominion Virginia Power customers had lost power. Within an hour and a half, all but 60 of those customers had their power restored, according to Chuck Penn, spokesman for Dominon Virginia Power. By 10:16 a.m., all but the WVEC tower had power restored.

George said one witness on the scene also reported that one of the jumpers may have been injured in the jump, because one jumper picked up another from the ground and placed him into a white Chevrolet Suburban before driving off.

A witness identified the driver of the car as a white male with shoulder-length blonde hair.

“We have notified local hospitals to be on the lookout for any potential patient with injuries that could be consistent with that type of activity,” George said.

The jumpers took down four power lines, which will need to be replaced. George said the jumpers, if caught, face two counts of trespassing each, as well as a felony count of destruction of property.

George added that the city has seen cases of individuals jumping from the tower before in past years, although typically the jumpers have left before police could arrive to the scene.

In fact, Suffolk is widely acknowledged to have been the site of the first death in the history of modern American BASE jumping.

William Harmon died April 11, 1981, after jumping from one of the city’s 1,000-foot antenna towers, according to Blinc Magazine, which bills itself online as offering “everything you ever wanted to know about BASE-jumping.” Harmon was blown into a guy wire, and his chute collapsed, sending him falling to his death.

Haste, on the other hand, could have been a factor in what went wrong Wednesday morning, according to one local extreme sportsman.

Bobby Page has completed more than 5,270 jumps as a skydiver, and said a risk with BASE jumping — which is parachuting off of fixed objects such as buildings, antennas, bridge spans or Earth (cliffs) — comes from jumpers trying to avoid getting caught.

“I’m not a base jumper,” Page said. “I skydive, but typically BASE jumpers are born from skydivers. There is a definitely a thrill attached to BASE jumping, but because it is illegal in a lot of places, you really have to do it undercover and be fast and get out of the area.”

“If you’re trying to get up, get gone and get out, speeding things up can make you make mistakes,” he said.”

Page added that while many would like to believe BASE jumpers are a wild, reckless type, it’s not necessarily the best characterization.

“All of the BASE jumpers I know are extremely intelligent,” Page said. “Some are engineers, who want to try a new rush. They are really stable, and not necessarily the crazy whacko-type. They know it’s a calculated risk, but it’s a risk they are taking.”

Suffolk police are still looking for information on the jumpers. Anyone with information can call Crime Line at 1-888-LOCK-U-UP.