French base jumper dies in Bernese Oberland

A 57-year-old base jumper died on Wednesday following an accident near Lauterbrunnen in the Bernese Oberland.

French base jumper dies in Bernese Oberland
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Bern cantonal police identified the victim as a Frenchman who jumped from the “High Nose”, a popular spot for base jumpers on the Mürrenfluh, a mountain with a vertical cliff.

The man had gone to the top of the cliff just before lunch with a colleague, police said.

He jumped and crashed for reasons not as yet known, police said.

An Air Glacier helicopter was called to the scene along with members of the Swiss Alpine Club but the victim was found dead at the foot of the cliff.

The fatal base jumping accident is the latest of more than 32 that have occurred in the Lauterbrunnen area since 1994.

Base jumping is an extreme sport that involves jumping from cliffs and structures, such as tall buildings and bridges, using special parachutes to break the fall.

The Swiss Base Association (SBA), which provides advice and information for base jumpers on its multilingual website, has a section in English called the “Dark Side”, which describes in chilling detail the deaths that have occurred in the Lauterbrunnen Valley.

“Too many jumpers died in this valley!” says a message above the list.

“Don’t become a statistic,” it adds.

“Life is precious, play safe.”
The SBA lists a number of rules, including a requirement to notify Air Glacier before every jump because base jumpers are entering the helicopter company’s air space.

Third party insurance is obligatory.

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Villages across Swiss Alps set to fight proposed base jumping ban

A proposal to ban base jumping in the Bernese Highlands has drawn criticism, with locals countering claims that the extreme sport is dangerous.

Villages across Swiss Alps set to fight proposed base jumping ban
Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Kiener Nellen, a National Councillor in Bern, has instructed the Federal Council to consider a nationwide ban on the practice. 

Nellen said that the dangerous sport was harmful to Switzerland’s reputation, while also putting local rescue staff at risk. 

Nellen told the Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen broadcasting company that base jumping ”endangers the reputation of Switzerland’s tourism industry and the Bernese Highlands”. 

An average of 4.5 deaths per year

More and more base jumps take place in Switzerland every year, with more than 30,000 completed in 2018.

While base jumping is becoming a more established practice, it remains unsafe. 

READ: British base jumper dies in Lauterbrunnen

Four people died base jumping in 2017 in Switzerland, down from nine in 2016 and ten in 2015. A total of 81 people have died in Switzerland since 2002, an average of 4.5 per year. 

'Not thoughtless weirdos'

Several have spoken out against the ban, arguing that the practice is becoming safer – and that it is crucial to the local economy. 

Aside from the money spent by the base jumpers when they stay in Switzerland, they are also required to buy a ‘Landing Card’. 

The money from these cards is paid back to local farmers who offer their properties as landing pads and began as an initiative of the base jumpers themselves. 

Base jumping. Michael Mathes / AFP

Annette Weber, who works at a cafe in the Bernese Highlands, told Swiss online newspaper Watson that the stereotype of irresponsible, risk-taking base jumpers was not accurate. 

“They’re not half-wild weirdos who throw themselves thoughtlessly off the cliffs,” she said. 

“It would be totally ridiculous to criminalize base jumping.” 

Lauterbrunnen Mayor Martin Stäger (SVP) agreed, saying that a ban would be not be effective. 

“The base jumpers mostly stick to the rules in our valley,” he said. 

“A ban would be completely counterproductive. How can such a ban be controlled?

“Then people would just jump at the unofficial, more dangerous places.”

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