TIME Extreme Sports

Deaths of Dean Potter, Graham Hunt Leave Climbing Community Reeling

"I definitely felt Dean was invincible"

The death of rock climbing visionary Dean Potter, considered to be one of the most influential outdoor athletes of his generation, during a wingsuit BASE jump Saturday has sent shockwaves through the extreme sports world.

The 43-year-old and his fellow climber Graham Hunt, 29, died from impact after failing to clear granite cliffs off Taft Point in California’s Yosemite National Park, which can be seen across the valley from the infamous “El Capitan” rock formation. Rescuers said neither jumper’s parachutes deployed, according the to Associated Press.

“We as climbers are really good at justifying what we do. And those of us who push the safety aspect convince themselves that they are invincible,” said climbing contemporary Tommy Caldwell, who in January made the first ever free ascent of the Dawn Wall on Yosemite’s El Capitan. “I definitely felt Dean was invincible and when something like this happens I get shattered and it makes me very introspective and makes us pause and take a reality check.”

Caldwell described Potter, a childhood acquaintance who was awarded the 2009 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, as “a total larger than life person in terms of the amount of emotion in him. He believed anything was possible and the times climbing with him were some of the most high-energy times of my life.”

Potter was renowned for pushing the limits of extreme sports. He slacklined over deadly precipices and climbed thousand-foot cliffs with no ropes and then BASE jumped from the top. Recently, he became a hit on YouTube for BASE jumping with his dog.

In 2006, Potter courted controversy by climbing Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, which was not illegal but drew rebukes as the rock is considered especially fragile.

On Sunday, the climbing, mountaineering and extreme outdoor sports community, including free-soloing star Alex Honnold, took to Twitter to pay tribute to a lost icon.


Watch BASE Jumpers Set a New World Record by Diving Off The Tallest Building on Earth

A touching bro-ment

Fred Fugen and Vince Reffet set a BASE-jumping world record after hopping from the tip of the Burj Khalifa—all 2,717 feet of it—in a stunt sponsored by the skydiving resort Skydive Dubai. Along with a peculiarly uncredited cameraman, the bros share a bro-ment as they soar around the building like unusually large gliders, trailed by twin plumes of dramatic red smoke.

“People think that you BASE jump because you’re crazy, you like to get scared,” either Fred or Vince said. (From the video, it’s not clear whom.) “But, I mean, we like to fly.”

TIME One World Trade Center

Meet the Man Who Jumped Off One World Trade Center

Jim Brady, 1 World Trade Center BASE jumper
Craig Blankenhorn for TIME One World Trade Center ironworker Jim Brady

Ironworker Jim Brady BASE jumped off One World Trade Center days after he helped TIME take an exclusive 360-degree image from the building's spire. Brady and three others turned themselves in to authorities amid questions over security at the site

Last summer, I interviewed dozens of the ironworkers who were working around the clock to turn One World Trade Center into the tallest building in the western hemisphere. This week, one of those workers was arrested for parachuting from the top of the tower he helped build.

Jim Brady, 32, was typical of those who make their living guiding steel beams into place hundreds of feet up in the sky: intense, physically-imposing, more inclined to adventure than introspection. When we spoke on the 102nd floor of 1 WTC, the building had topped out at 104 floors and the spire, which climbed to the symbolic height of 1,776 ft., had already been set. The end was in sight and Brady and his fellow ironworkers from Local 40 were a bit more open to reflection than usual.

“Whenever I see it, I’m like, ‘F—in’ A, man, the thing’s f—in’ huge!” Brady said. “And we were up there.”

For nearly everyone who helped build 1 WTC, the job had the potential to serve as a daily reminder of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Brady, who says he was working construction on Long Island at the time, visited Lower Manhattan and lent a hand two days later. But the demands of the job—Brady had spent four years on the site as a connector, linking the massive pieces of steel together—kept the emotional weight at bay.

“You just get in the groove of things,” Brady told me. “You don’t get to think about too much else.”

A few months later, Brady was one of four ironworkers who helped TIME’s Jonathan Woods and Gigapan’s Michael Franz take a 360-degree interactive photo from 1 WTC’s spire. Two days after that, Brady and two other men BASE jumped from 1 WTC in the middle of the night and parachuted onto West Street. They filmed the entire thing — and likely would have gotten away with it had one of them not been spotted by a nearby security guard.

James Brady and Jonathan Woods on the spire of 1 World Trade Center
Doug Holgate — New York on Air for TIMEJim Brady, far right, and TIME’s Jonathan Woods, second from right, on the spire of 1 World Trade Center

In February, Brady, along with Marko Markovich, 27, Andrew Rossig, 33, and Kyle Hartwell, 29, (who acted as a look-out on the street, according to police), contacted lawyers after learning that they were being investigated. Andrew Mancilla, Brady’s lawyer, says the men were preparing to turn themselves in when news broke that a teenager made his way past security to reach the roof’s spire. Mancilla says the New York Police Department called him to demand that the four men surrender last week.

“In our view, they wanted to have control over the media frenzy and how it was going to play out,” Mancilla says.

Brady was still working on 1 WTC as an employee of DCM Erectors when he parachuted from the building on Sept. 30. Mancilla says Brady didn’t use his security ID to reach the roof but instead slipped through a hole in the fence surrounding the construction zone. Mancilla says Brady quit working on the WTC site around Thanksgiving. He says the decision was unrelated to the jump.

The four have been charged with burglary, reckless endangerment and jumping from a structure, which is a misdemeanor in New York City. They’ve been released on bail, and Mancilla says Brady was trying to return to work Tuesday at his job on another construction project.

The recent breaches have raised questions about the site’s security. While the New York Police Department patrols the area around the 16-acre WTC construction zone, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is responsible for security on the site. The NYPD referred questions about the site to the Port Authority. Calls and e-mails to the Port Authority went unreturned Tuesday, but the bi-state agency released a statement saying that it “joins the NYPD in condemning this lawless and selfish act that clearly endangered the public.”

Ironworkers may not all be BASE jumpers, but the job does require a certain ability to abandon fear. Not everyone has the nerve to juggle tons of steel while balancing on beams often no more than a foot wide, 100 stories above street level. Like many of his colleagues, Brady was born into the thrill-seeking profession.

“You grow up with it,” Brady said of coming from a family of ironworkers. “As soon as you get around it, you want to do it.”

The adrenaline rush is part of the lure.

“A lot of your ironworkers are guys that were adventurous kids. These are the guys that are skiing 100 miles an hour. These are the guys that are jumping out of airplanes,” Kevin Murphy, the supervisor of 1 WTC’s ironworkers, told TIME for Rise, a Red Border Film that accompanied the WTC story and panorama.

Toward the end of my interview with Brady back in June, along the 102nd floor of 1 WTC, just feet from where he would eventually jump, I asked what was next for him and his fellow ironworkers.

“We really don’t know what we’ll be doing,” Brady told me. “But I don’t know what could top this.”

TIME Base Jumping

WATCH: BASE Jumpers Leap Off One World Trade Center

Four thrill-seekers are charged with felony burglary, misdemeanor reckless endangerment and misdemeanor jumping from a structure after three of them parachuted from the Freedom Tower last September

Three men who are accused of parachuting from the top of One World Trade Center in September turned themselves in to authorities Monday, and released a video of their death-defying leap from the tallest building in the western hemisphere.

The video of the stunt was shot by a helmet camera and shows one of the men plummeting from the 1,776-ft building before pulling the rip cord, then landing on a nearly empty street in lower Manhattan.

James Brady, 32; Andrew Rossig, 33; Marko Markovich, 27; along with Kyle Hartwell, 29 – who is accused of being the ground man of the operation – were charged with felony burglary, misdemeanor reckless endangerment and misdemeanor jumping from a structure on Monday. The four men pleaded not guilty and were released on bail. They could face up to seven years in prison if convicted of all charges.

New York Police Commissioner William Bratton said that surveillance cameras captured the jump, and police used the footage to track down the men in a six-month investigation. “Just a little snippet of video that we had of someone landing on the West Side Highway with a parachute around 4 a.m.,” Bratton told New York’s WABC-TV. “That’s all we had to work with initially.”

TIME Accident

Newlywed Dies BASE-Jumping in Zion National Park

Husband says parachute failed during 2,000-ft leap

A newlywed woman died Saturday after her parachute failed to open during a 2,000 foot BASE jump from a peak in Zion National Park, Utah.

Amber Bellows, 28, was an experienced BASE jumper who was visiting Zion with her husband of two weeks, Clayton Butler. Butler said Bellows jumped first, but her parachute didn’t open properly, CNN reports.

He said he jumped after her but couldn’t find her, so he hiked out of the park to get help. BASE jumping, or parachuting off fixed objects such as mountains, bridges or buildings, is illegal in Zion National Park.

Authorities located Bellows’s body Sunday morning, and airlifted her out of the park. Her death is still under investigation, authorities say.


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