Risky Sport's Popularity Grows, As Do Fatalities

Mar 24, 2014

base jumpers leap off cliff
BASE jumping has grown in popularity since the 1970s, and so have the fatalities associated with the sport.

Two BASE jumpers were killed over the weekend in separate incidents in Zion National Park and Mineral Canyon, west of Moab. These mark the second and third BASE related deaths in the last two months in Utah.

BASE, or “Building, Antenna, Span, Earth” jumping evolved out of sky diving in the late 1970s. The sport only started to gain a more mainstream following 15 years ago, as more legal areas to jump were discovered and advances to BASE gear made jumps less risky.

Tom Aiello is the chief BASE instructor at Snake River BASE Academy, he says the increased number of fatalities is to be expected.

“As the number of participants increases, the total number of incidents will increase, even if the incident rate itself—the incidents per jump—is decreasing. Although from the outside you may look at it and say it seems like incidents have climbed a lot, incidents per participant haven’t actually and in fact may have decreased in the last 10 years,” Aiello said.

Steph Davis, owner of Moab B.A.S.E Adventures, says incident rates may also be amplified by those new to the sport.

“With a lot of people starting this sport, it’s a funny sport—there’s not really a safety net to learn it—so I think that you have a lot of accidents with people learning because it’s kind of a sink or swim through the learning process,” Davis said.

Aiello and Davis agree BASE jumping is inherently dangerous, though both think the sport gets unfair media coverage when accidents occur.

“It’s kind of intriguing to me that when someone dies BASE jumping that that becomes national news, and then it’s equally tragic and awful when people die river rafting and even hiking—it happens so much,” Davis said.

In the last five years there have been 693 fatalities in the National Parks, a majority of the deaths were caused by drowning and automobile accidents. An official from Zion National Park says two people were killed in the park in 2012 from climbing and canyoneering related incidents. One fatal fall was reported in 2013, and the two recent BASE deaths have been the only fatalities within the park so far this year.

A previous version of this article did not list fatalities for Zion National Park specifically.