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Rescuer describes 4-hour efforts to save BASE jumper dangling from cliff

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 2 2012 5:55 p.m. MDT

Kevin Dickerson, a science teacher at American Fork Junior High who also works with Utah County Search and Rescue, talks Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, about his experience rescuing a BASE jumper that got caught on the face of a cliff in Provo Canyon Monday night.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

PROVO — Kevin Dickerson has been with the Utah County Search and Rescue Team almost 20 years. He has participated in some of the county's most challenging rescues.

But Monday night's rescue of a BASE jumper dangling on a sheer cliff wall 200 feet above the ground — being held only by his harness and the fabric of his parachute caught on a rock the size of a basketball — was one Dickerson will never forget.

"(Monday) night was probably the No. 1 rescue where there was the greatest potential for a bad decision on our part to lead to disaster for our victim. There's a lot of things that could have gone wrong last night," he said Tuesday. "There was just a lot of things that needed to turn out right or we were going to have bad consequences."

Dickerson was lowered 300 feet down a cliff in Provo Canyon to a BASE jumper who was covered by his parachute. He had to get to the man without knocking other rocks onto him, or worse, accidentally causing his parachute to break free. Then Dickerson had to hook the man up to a rope so he could be lowered to the ground.

Despite all that, Dickerson contends he had the easy job.

After more than four hours, search and rescue team members were able to successfully free Adam Gardner, 26, from his parachute and lower him down the mountain. Gardner was listed in serious condition Tuesday at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.

A friend of Gardner, who wished to remain anonymous, described him as a highly experienced BASE jumper. Video on YouTube shows Gardner making jumps off the 1,100-foot KL Tower in Malaysia during a competition in 2011. The SIBU BASE Jump website described the event as being for "experienced BASE jumpers," preferably those who have "at least 100 BASE jumps, have made at least 20 BASE jumps within the previous 12 months, and have been actively BASE jumping for at least two years."

Gardner is also seen BASE jumping in a video posted on YouTube for Delta Gear, Inc., an outdoor sports gear company.

In January, the City Paper in Nashville, Tenn., reported that two men who BASE jumped off the Sheraton Hotel were cited for disorderly conduct. One of the men was Adam Gardner, 26, of Marietta, Ga.

Gardner moved to Draper earlier this year, according to the friend. He is originally from Marietta.

Gardner and two friends were BASE jumping off a steep cliff on the north side of Provo Canyon about 7:30 p.m. on Monday. The friends made it to the ground safely, but Gardner somehow got caught on a ledge between 200 and 300 feet from the top, said Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon.

"It was shocking," said Warren Osborn, who witnessed the accident. "It's about a 400-foot cliff and he's about 200 feet down, just literally hanging there. Then as we were there, the wind would come and blow occasionally and take on the chute. It looked like if it blew much harder it would take it off and he would fall."

"I knew it was going to be a 'pick-off,'" Dickerson said as he was headed to Provo Canyon to get Gardner off the mountain. "And I got there, and I was assigned that position, to go over the edge."

Gardner was conscious and alert during the entire incident, Dickerson said. The biggest fear for rescuers was something called "harness hang," in which the victim is hanging for so long that it causes circulation problems to his legs.

"Time was really of the essence. Had this guy gone unconscious, that would have totally changed how this would have turned out," Dickerson said. "We needed to work quick but safe."

Dickerson was lowered just to the side of Gardner.

"So now we have this dilemma, I'm hanging 20 feet away from you, but I can't reach you," he said.

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