Winging It

The rise of wingsuits and tracking suits in BASE jumping

Feb 10, 2012
Outside Magazine

The rise of wingsuits and fatalities in BASE jumping    Photo: Outside Magazine

In the early oughts, wingsuits (a.k.a. flying-squirrel suits) and tracking suits (baggy pants and jackets that catch more air) became popular with jumpers who wanted extra glide, both to clear obstacles and to extend free fall.

Summer 1966: Michael Pelkey and Brian Schubert leap from El ­Capitan with ­military parachutes. Both men suffer broken bones but survive. Modern BASE jumping is born.

October 1, 1995: American Robert Overacker (BFL #33) attempts to ride a jet-ski off Niagara Falls and parachute to safety. His canopy fails to deploy, and he drowns in the rapids below.

October 22, 1999: Activist Jan Davis (BFL #48) fails to deploy her chute while staging a protest jump from El Cap. The stunt was intended to show rangers that BASE jumping deserves a place in national parks. (It’s banned to this day.)

May 16, 2005: Norwegian Olov Axel Kappfjell (BFL #89) attempts a jump from halfway up the 986-foot Eiffel Tower in honor of Norway’s independence day. He clips a lower level of the tower on the way down and dies.

March 26, 2009: In the Italian ­Dolomites, ski-film star Shane McConkey (BFL #133) can’t remove his left ski ­during a wingsuited ski-BASE jump. Before he can recover and deploy his chute, he hits the snow and dies.