On the afternoon of October 22, 1999, Jan Davis, a 58-year-old retired real estate broker and professional stuntwoman, fell 3,400 feet to her death on the floor of Yosemite Valley during a BASE.jump from El Capitan—the latest in a bizarre string of tragedies related to the hotly contested issue of fixed-object diving in national parks. The accident was witnessed by a group of 150 horrified onlookers that included Davis's husband, Tom Sanders, who captured her fall on film.
The jump was undertaken as a protest against the National Park Service's ban on BASE.jumping, and as a memorial to Frank Gambalie III, who successfully completed a BASE jump from El Capitan last June, only to drown in the Merced River while fleeing from park rangers. Gambalie had been a friend of Dan Osman, the pioneering "rope jumper,".and had been speaking by cell phone with Osman on November 23, 1998, during Osman's fatal leap from Yosemite's Leaning Tower.
Anticipating that she would be arrested, Davis jumped wearing a black-and-white-striped prison suit and a borrowed pack containing a parachute that, for reasons that are still unclear, she was unable to deploy. (She avoided using her own gear because park rangers typically confiscate jumpers' equipment.) In the wake of the accident, Yosemite's sixth BASE-jumping related death since 1982, park officials insist that the sport is inappropriate in areas under their jurisdiction. "We don't condemn BASE jumping in and of itself, but Yosemite is not the place for it,".says park spokesman Scott Gediman. Meanwhile, BASE.jumpers continue to argue that theirs is a legitimate form of recreation. "It's dangerous—that's a given," says Avery Badenhop, leader of the demonstration. "But we should still have a right to do it."