Elderly Idaho BASE jumper died in burning parachute stunt

Reuters News
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Posted: May 20, 2015 5:08 AM

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A 73-year-old man who died earlier this month in a botched 500-foot (150-meter) BASE jump from an Idaho bridge was attempting to be the first known jumper to perform a stunt in which one of two parachutes is set aflame, authorities said on Wednesday.

Jim Hickey of Claremont, California, planned to jump off the Perrine Bridge into the Snake River as a friend standing on the bridge ignited one parachute to be cut away while a backup was deployed, according to the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office.

But the jump instead saw Hickey engulfed by flames as he cut loose the burning canopy and released the second too late, causing him to hit the water at a high rate of speed and likely killing him on impact, according to an ongoing police probe.

“There does not appear to be any wrongdoing. At this point, we are not looking at a criminal investigation,” Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office Captain Brent Hilliard said.

No criminal charges are expected in a death that authorities said is so far considered an accident.

In a video of the incident posted to YouTube on Monday, Hickey can be seen erupting into a fireball while another person jumps from the bridge and lands safely below. Hickey’s family has asked the video be removed out of respect, Hilliard said.

The details come two days after renowned rock climber Dean Potter and another man died while attempting jumps from a 3,000-foot-high (900-metre) cliff in California's Yosemite National Park, the latest in a string of deaths nationwide from the extreme sport of BASE, or Building, Antenna, Span and Earth, jumping.

Hickey, a retired accountant, had participated in more than 1,000 jumps in the decade since he took up a sport in which parachutists free-fall from such fixed points as cliffs, bridges and buildings, according to Tom Aiello, a long-time friend and owner of a BASE jumping school in Twin Falls.

Aiello told Reuters he was the person who ignited Hickey’s parachute by request in a jump that Hickey had performed before while skydiving but which is not known to have been performed during a BASE jump.

Aiello, who expressed regret for the accident, estimated that 500 people a year parachute from the bridge, which authorities say annually can see as many as 10,000 jumps. Officials said Hickey was the second person to die there attempting such a jump this year.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Lisa Lambert)