Never Compromise Safety
My heart sank as I watched a man's body slam into the jagged rocks of Rock Canyon after B.A.S.E. jumping off of a 300+foot cliff. I watched with a small group of people in horror as the man's chute collapsed and his body hit the rock wall time and time again during his short free-fall. I wasn't sure how he was blown back into the rocks after his chute delpoyed because there was hardly any detectable breeze in the air.
I was blown away at the lack of response from the people standing with me below the cliff at the trailhead who wrote the whole situation off saying things like, "Whoops, that's not how you do it." or "that's why you should never let amateurs do that." I was actuallly more shocked by everyone else's demeanor than the actual incident and yelled to the group as I started running toward the fallen man, "guys, that man needs an ambulance!"
A few seconds later someone screamed from the top off the cliff, "Call 9-1-1!" Finally, the gravity of what had just happened hit everyone. You could hear the siren of an ambulence from deep inside the Provo Valley within two minutes - an incredible response time.
By the time I reached the body of the man his friends had already congregated around him. Luckily one of his friends was a neurosurgeo who awkwardly kneeled beside him trying to support his neck the best he could. The semi-conscious individual was laid down on an extremely steep incline that made the climb extremely difficult for paramedics.
What I saw did not look good. There was blood oozing out of the top of the man's helmet, which had been cracked by the blows from the sharp, unforgiving rocks.
Paramedics moved as quickly as they could to get the man off of the mountain. I then had a glimpse of an even bigger picture that nearly put me to my knees. The true gravity of this whole situation caused my heart and head to hurt.
It was exactly a week earlier that we had flimed our energy supplement commercial featuring a B.A.S.E. Jumping stunt where our stunt man had jumped from the same exact exit point that the man now lying unresponsive on the ground had.
I stood there on that bright, sunny day sick and relieved for a number of reasons. The one obvious reason is that nothing had happened to my jumper under my watch, which would have of course ended both of our careers in an instant. The second reason for feeling relieved is for having made the right decisions when they counted.
The night of filming our jump I was under a great amount of stress. My client was hanging their hat on this jump as it was the climax of their whole commercial. I understood the importance of making this jump happen. But as Marshall, our stunt man prepared to jump with a small skeletal crew at the top of that cliff a breeze began to blow through the valley, and it was no small summer breeze. A full-on storm was getting ready to hit us hard.
My phone began blowing up from my client below and the 2nd Camera asking me when we were going to make the jump. The conditions looked terrible and Marshall had told me that any jump past a 10 mph wind was extremely dangerous. I had only permitted for my crew to be on forrest service land for that day, and even that process took three weeks to get. I knew that if I called off the jump that we probably wouldn't get a second shot at it. It didn't help that Marshall would be leaving town soon for a series of jumps with the NFL and GoPro..
Neither Marshall or myself felt good about the jump, and when a guy who has done this thousands of times tells you that it's probably a bad idea you listen. I felt extremely uneasy about the situation. Was I really going to call off the jump at the expense of my production and my client? There were a lot of people who had made the trek and come up just to see it happen. Of course I called it off, and the client was extremely understanding. They didn't want to be responsible for putting a man's life in danger either.
Of course the question still remained. What were we going to do? It was dark now and our permit required us all to leave the mountain. Ultimately, the commercial wasn't shot until the jump happened.
Everything miraculously worked out just fine. The forrest service granted us a second-day permit because the accompanying ranger with us during the shoot reported back how good we were to work with and explained the whole situation.
Marshall was awesome to work with and told us he'd meet up with us for a quick jump before he had to leave. And luckily there was enough crew who wanted to come and see the jump happen.
This is what flashed through my mind as I watched this poor jumper lie helplessly on the ground as paramedics worked to stabilize him. I was so thankful at that moment that I had not given into pressure. I was so thankful that I put the safety of my crew before permits, clients, money or anything else. Film is wonderful and it is important, but it is not, and never will be more important than delivering people home to their families every night.
Photo Credit on this last photo goes to Ian Maule of the Daily Herald