It’s not the fall that hurts

Published 10:14 pm Thursday, October 1, 2009

For me, the climb would have been the worst part. Well, except for the fall. Or maybe the electrocution.

I can’t stop thinking today about three fools who actually climbed a 1,000-foot antenna tower owned by television station WVEC-13, only to turn around and jump from it.

Let me be clear: I can’t drive along that part of Nansemond Parkway without getting dizzy. When I see those towers … well, towering above me, all I can think about is how horrible it would be if they fell. I can assure you that my thoughts upon climbing one of them would change only slightly, this time encompassing the whole trauma of myself being the one doing the falling.

So the guys (and I cannot conceive of any of the women I know being stupid enough to try such a stunt) were wearing parachutes. From my perspective, I’m not sure which is dumber: jumping from a 1,000-foot tower with a parachute or without one. At least someone jumping without the chute would be sure of the outcome.

The BASE jumpers who threw themselves into the air from the antenna on Wednesday had no reason for such assurance. Based on the results of a Swedish study, BASE-jumping has a fatality rate of 1 per every 60 participants. Those aren’t great odds. And, in fact, the WVEC tower is widely considered to have been the site of the first BASE-jumping fatality in the modern history of the sport, so it’s not like these guys didn’t know what could happen.

I’ve got nothing against skydivers — some of my best friends have jumped out of airplanes for fun. But there just seems to be something categorically different about the two sports. Jumping from an airplane gives one at least a slim chance of recovering from a problem. On the other hand, if my high school physics (and weak math skills) continue to serve, an object dropped from 1,000 feet has a bit less than eight seconds before making a crater in the ground. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for error in an imperfect world.

In fact, the guys who jumped from the tower on Wednesday may have gotten a taste of that imperfection as they dropped from the sky amidst a spider web of guy wires and power lines. Something — or someone — impacted with four of those lines, knocking out power to nearly 500 customers. And a witness reported seeing one of the daredevils being helped into an escape vehicle after the stunt was over.

In the words this week of a school official who was commenting on a different news item: It could have been a whole lot worse.