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.
It was Gardner's idea to have Dickerson throw him a rope. Even though he was mostly covered by his parachute and Dickerson was only able to see his arm sticking out, he was able to get a rope to him after about 10 minutes of trying. Gardner clipped the rope that connected him with Dickerson onto his harness and cut his parachute free.
As Gardner was getting hooked up, Dickerson realized there was another reason to hurry: he could hear the fabric of the parachute ripping.
"He had about 10 inches of fabric laying over this rock, and it was just kind of the pressure of him pulling down on it that was keeping it from coming free," he said. "I could see some of the rock come through that corner. I don't think much more movement or wind blowing would have lead to a good outcome."
Once Gardner was lowered close to the ground, rescue crews put an IV in him before completely cutting him free from his harness and letting his legs rest on the ground.
"You could see almost an immediate improvement when he got that IV," Dickerson said. "He was very glad to get out of that harness."
Once he was put in a basket and off the cliff wall, rescuers still had to lower him another 200 feet down a steep hillside with a lot of scree, or loose rocks. Crews used a 600-foot rope from the top of the cliff to lower Gardner down to the waiting ambulance. There was only about 20 feet of rope to spare, Dickerson said.
The rescue, he said, wouldn't have been possible without a complete team effort, from the people who lowered him off the cliff, to the spotters to the medical staff.
"I can get him to the ground, but that won't do any good if we don't have the medical team," he said.
The rescue was completed after midnight. Gardner was taken to the hospital to be treated for several injuries, including a possible broken ankle.
Despite the late-night rescue, Dickerson was able to make it to class on time Tuesday morning. During the day, he teaches science at American Fork Junior High School.
BASE jumping refers to four designated categories of jumping from a fixed object with a parachute: buildings, antennas, spans (bridges) and earth (cliffs).
Provo Canyon is not known for BASE jumping activity, said Cannon, noting it was the first incident he could think of there. Gardner's friend agreed Provo Canyon isn't a popular area for BASE jumping, but is more of a place that people like Gardner would have on their bucket list.
Utah has had its share of BASE jumping incidents making the news in recent years.
• In 2011, 24-year-old Holly Brittsan of Idaho, a student at the University of Utah, was killed while BASE jumping in Rock Canyon after her parachute failed to open properly.
• In November of 2010, two men jumped from the the 26th floor observation deck of the the LDS Church Office Building in downtown Salt Lake City. Video of the jump was later posted on YouTube. Hartman Rector and Marshall Miller were cited for disturbing the peace and trespassing.
• In April of 2009, Richard Walkling was injured from bouncing off the cliff walls multiple times after his parachute malfunctioned while making a 450-foot BASE jump in Rock Canyon.
• In 2008, it took crews six hours to rescue a BASE jumper in Canyonlands National Park who was stuck 350 feet off the ground after jumping off Updraft Arch. The man suffered a broken leg after a problem with his parachute caused him to slam into the rock wall.
• Also in 2008, a local rock climber scaled a mountain 100 feet to reach a BASE jumper who became snagged on a ledge near Tombstone Rock outside of Moab.3 comments on this story
• In 2000, Grand County Sheriff James Nyland even explored the possibilities of legal restrictions on BASE jumping because of the growing number of injuries and incidents in which search and rescue crews were being called out to get jumpers out of a jam.
A study published in 2007 by the University of Stavanger and Stavanger University Hospital in Norway looked at more than 20,000 BASE jumps from the Kjerag Massifin in Norway during an 11-year period. The study found 1 in every 2,317 jumps resulted in a fatality.