Swiss base jumper killed in French Alps mishap

Two people — including one Swiss man — were killed while base jumping in France on Wednesday in separate incidents that both appeared to have been caused by parachute failure.

Swiss base jumper killed in French Alps mishap
Base jumpers at Lauterbrunnen. Photo: AFP/File

Unlike skydiving which involves leaping from an aircraft, base jumpers take off with a parachute from a fixed point, usually a cliff or a bridge.
The two incidents took place some 900 kilometres (550 miles) apart — one in the Alps and the other in the Pyrenees.
On Wednesday morning, a 34-year-old Swiss man living in the Mont Saxonnex ski resort was killed after jumping from a spot popular with base-jumpers in Haute-Savoie.
Firefighters said the man's parachute failed to open. He struck the cliff before hitting the ground, and was killed instantly.
The second victim was a 46-year-old man from Paris who jumped from the north face of Pic du Midi d'Ossau in the Pyrenees around midday.
Rescuers said the cause of the accident was also likely a problem with the parachute opening.
The man fell 700 meters (750 yards) and was found dead on arrival, according to firefighters.
A base jump is defined as a leap off a fixed high point — the name being an acronym for Building, Antenna, Span (such as bridges) and Earth (natural settings).
The pursuit carries high risks.

A Norwegian study published in 2007 concluded that base jumping is between five and eight times more likely than skydiving to result in injury or death.

More than 35 people have died base jumping in the Lauterbrunnen valley, a popular area for practitioners of the high-risk sport in the Swiss canton of Bern. 

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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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