Preventing Death – August Attrition Part 2
Experienced jumpers are dying. These guys are adventurers that have been around for a while and yet they are meeting their match without seeing it coming. Something is seriously wrong. It makes me wonder – how expert are we?
Earlier this month I wrote about Preventing Death – August Attrition Part 1. We lost 5 experienced BASE jumpers in just 7 days in August. This is a startling figure. Since then there have been more fatalities.
Many of these deaths have been while individuals are wingsuit proximity flying. The question is, how expert were they and how expert are the rest of us?
I don’t know all of the people that were involved in fatal incidents and I don’t know all of the details so I am reluctant to generalise. But I do wonder how expert everyone was. Some may have been expert wingsuit flyers. Others may have been expert BASE jumpers. But how many were expert wingsuit proximity flyers? I’m afraid that I have to wonder if any really, truly were.
And if they were, what sort of wingsuit proximity flights were they experts at? Were they experts at vertical wall proximity flying or at low passes over a horizontal object? Is their expertise in steep terrain but they then flew shallower lines? When you have no ‘outs’ and the penalty for making a minor mistake or error of judgement is fatal, how much of an expert are you?
I’ve been discussing this with someone that I would consider an expert in wingsuit proximity flying, Espen Fadnes. He’s flown some amazing lines and spends hours carefully calculating it. He makes it look easy because he’s so good and has put so much background work into it. He understands the risks and undertakes mitigation strategies to minimise them to an acceptable level.
Espen has spent years in the mountains – he lives there. He undertakes this unforgiving activity on a regular basis and remains current. He builds up to the jumps.
Yet, aspiring amateurs see the likes of Espen, his team mates Jokke Sommer and Ludo Woerth, and a few others and think they can perform at this level. A number of us believe that, because we have associated skill sets, we can cut corners and get their quicker, that we are experts in other fields and that the skill sets translate.
But do they? I have over 7,000 skydives and a multitude of National medals but flying the lines that Espen and his team mates take are not for me. I’m confident with vertical wall proximity flying – I have so many more outs and I’ve done it a lot. But horizontal terrain flying is not where I’m at right now – I’m simply not current enough with it. I’m not an expert in this area and any that I do undertake will be done with extreme caution.
It doesn’t matter how many BASE jumps you have, how many hours you have flying a wingsuit, how many skydives you have, whether you are an AFF or a Tandem Instructor, how many world medals you have or how precisely you can fly a canopy, it doesn’t mean that you’re a wingsuit proximity flight expert.
In Espen’s words:
They are like the skiing instructors that claim they can ski down a steep face in Alaska safely. The small wave surfer that believes they can handle Mavericks just because they have years of experience from Mandy Beach. It doesn’t add up.
BASE jumping isn’t for everyone and nor is wingsuit BASE jumping. Wingsuit proximity flying is for an even more select few, especially when choosing unforgiving terrain. It wasn’t that long ago that wingsuit BASE jumping was about flying as far away from the terrain as possible, not flying as close to it as we can.
If you’re reading this and considering how much you know about a subject then, I’m afraid, you’ve missed my point. My aim is to alter that mindset. It’s not about how much you know, it’s about how much you don’t know and having the realisation and understanding of it. Once you start considering in terms of how little you know you are starting from the right place and you’re more likely to make the correct, life-saving judgements.
Before you put your gear on and make that next wingsuit proximity jump just take a deep breath and ask yourself how much you know about what you’re about to do.
If you haven’t read Part 1 of this post then click here.