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'Bridge Day' Parachute Jump Marred by Tragedy

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A full canopy, coming in for landing.

A full canopy, coming in for landing -- a BASE jumper glides toward the shore after a 876-foot drop from the New River Gorge Bridge. Rolando Arrieta, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Rolando Arrieta, NPR
Many jumpers choose to land in the New River i

Splashdown: Many jumpers choose to land in the New River -- because, as the saying goes, "clothes dry faster than broken bones mend" -- but some glide expertly into landing zones onshore. Rescue divers stand by to lend a hand. Rolando Arrieta, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Rolando Arrieta, NPR
Many jumpers choose to land in the New River

Splashdown: Many jumpers choose to land in the New River -- because, as the saying goes, "clothes dry faster than broken bones mend" -- but some glide expertly into landing zones onshore. Rescue divers stand by to lend a hand.

Rolando Arrieta, NPR

This past Saturday, more than 145,000 spectators gathered near Fayetteville, W. Va., for 27th annual Bridge Day, to watch nearly 400 jumpers make about 800 leaps from the center of the span, free-fall for several seconds and then open their chutes for a soft landing, 876 feet below.

But this year's festival at the New River Gorge Bridge turned tragic when 66-year-old pioneer jumper Brian Schubert, credited with making one of the first BASE jumps back in 1966, died after he failed to deploy his chute quickly enough and hit the river at the bottom of the gorge.

The event was briefly delayed after Schubert's death, but soon jumpers resumed their radical descents into the gorge. It was the first Bridge Day death since 1987.

Unlike skydivers, BASE jumpers use a parachute to free-fall from four types of platforms:

Building

Antenna

Span (bridge, arch or dome)

Earth (cliffs or other natural formations)

Active BASE jumpers seek to jump from all four types of platforms, and some even earn "points" for jumping from elevated spots deemed more difficult than others.

The New River Gorge is considered by BASE enthusiasts to be a world-class jump with a safe landing zone, and jumpers from all over the globe descend on Fayetteville for Bridge Day.

Jumpers use special parachutes that are built much like kites, with control devices that allow the jumper a tremendous amount of control over how and where they land.

There's no ripcord, however — a jumper holds a smaller parachute called the pilot chute in one hand, and after about four seconds the jumper simply releases the pilot chute, which pulls the main chute open. At that point, a jumper is falling at about 75 mph.

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