Posted by: Montola | July 6, 2009

Closer Look at BASE Jumps

Oslo BASE jumper coming down from the 19th floor.

BASE jumper coming down from the 19th floor in Oslo.

We discussed dangers of pervasive play earlier, so let’s look at something really dangerous. As far as I can think, BASE-jumping is probably the most dangerous form of pervasive play. At the moment, the community has listed 133 fatalities from around the world, which is quite a number compared to the fact that only some 1300 people have applied and been given a BASE number as a recognition for completing all four jump types — Building, Antenna, Span and Earth.

(According to U.S. Parachute Association, 30 skydivers died in 2008 in USA, which translates to a death rate  of 1 : 100,000 jumps. BASE is in a totally different ballpark; let’s guess some 100 times more dangerous than skydiving.)

Reading through the BASE Fatality List is a morbid experience. The contrast of seeing the smiling, healthy, beautiful people, and the descriptions of their sudden, brutal deaths is quite something. Descriptions written by friends and loved ones.

It’s interesting to read how different BASE jumpers deal with the ethical issues of their sport (compare Tom Aiello vs. Tom Begic). Their art is dead serious, and thorough consideration is needed — towards the jumper community, towards newbies, towards injured friends, towards outsiders and so forth. One telling example is the way Finnish BASE association discusses death and injury, stating that while an injured friend must never be left behind, it is acceptable to make a prior agreement that in the case of a fatality, the other jumpers may escape in order to avoid being sued over the death.

I was originally planning to conclude this entry in wondering why anyone wants to do this thing, but let’s be honest here: It is a fascinating and beautiful sport. Look at this Burj Dubai video to get an idea.

However, as an academic I am able to simultaneously hold two contradicting opinions; I really hope that no-one I know will ever start doing BASE jumps. There’s an ethics angle here, one that I didn’t find the jumpers discussing: Placing oneself in danger can be seen as irresponsible towards one’s family and friends. Think about who’s suffering when a family man dies in a jump.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a sore point for the community.

Photo courtesy of Jonas Aarre Sommarset (CC).

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