When James E. Hickey stepped off the Perrine Bridge on May 7, his parachute already in a ball of fire, and fell 486 feet to his death, he crossed a line from which his sport may never come back.
His death in an outrageous stunt is forcing BASE jumpers — and community leaders and residents of the Magic Valley — to take a sobering look at the sport.
Hickey is not the first BASE jumper to die at the Perrine Bridge, and he won’t be the last. BASE jumpers have been perishing here at a steady clip since about 1990. It’s the only tall bridge in the United States where jumpers can leap any time they like with no permit.
And so the deaths have become blasé.
Well, we say whenever a jumper dies, he knew the risks. Besides, jumpers come from all over the world to leap from the Perrine Bridge, and they spend money on food and hotel rooms here. We’d hate to lose the money.
But we can no longer continue to count the cash as bodies pile up on the canyon floor.
That line of thinking must end. Forcing the community to weigh economic benefits against the value of human life is, frankly, disgusting.
To borrow a line from Bob Dylan: “How many deaths will it take ‘till we know that too many people have died?”
The answer is blowing in the wind — at the end of a parachute.
The local BASE jumping community must come forward and play a leadership role for the sake of their sport. Hickey’s act must be publicly condemned. And there must be assurances made that similar stunts won’t be tolerated.
Anything less, and it won’t be long before folks start calling for a BASE jumping ban at the Perrine Bridge.
A good first step was canceling an event planned for October that would have had as many as 200 jumpers hurling themselves off the bridge in a festival-style free-for-all. Local BASE jumpers said they worried the event could have cast the sport in an even worse light — especially if there was another death — in the wake of Hickey’s stunt and the rescue of a California woman who got stuck dangling from the bridge earlier this month.
Accidents here and the deaths of two high-profile BASE jumpers at Yosemite have put the sport in the national spotlight. Video of Hickey’s death went viral. Around the world last week, Twin Falls was synonymous with a man falling to his death in a ball of fire. Is this the reputation we want for our community?
So it is time for a community conversation about BASE jumping, and it starts with local leaders in the sport. How can we preserve BASE jumping? Should we? How do we prevent more stunts like the one that killed Hickey? And what role do we all play in this?
There aren’t easy answers. But this much is clear: Hickey upped the ante. And unless we pull the chute now and have a serious discussion about BASE jumping, the sport’s future in the Magic Valley risks a flaming free-fall to the canyon floor.