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

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

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.

• 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.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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