At about 0830 on May 29, 2011 a report was received of a BASE jumper plummeting to the ground after his parachute failed to properly deploy. Emergency responders were dispatched to East Multnomah County. The jumper was part of a group that jumped together off of Crown Point. Deputies from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office and Volunteer Firefighters and related apparatus from Corbett Rural Fire District 14 responded to the area near the bottom of Crown Point. A full emergency call out of Multnomah County Search and Rescue Team volunteers and on call Search and Rescue Coordinators was initiated in preparation for the search and rescue efforts.
Because of the proximity of the search and rescue site immediately adjacent to the main east-west rail line for the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad, all train operations along this line were stopped for searcher safety. Such a shutdown affected rail traffic as far east as Kansas City, and all along the West Coast for the duration of the incident.
Approximately 45 minutes following the first call, an anonymous caller confirmed that one member of their BASE jumping party had an equipment malfunction, had sustained very minor injuries as a result, and had already left the area not wanting any assistance. Because the caller had specific details of the overall incident, this new information was deemed credible and the mission suspended.
BASE jumping is an activity prohibited by Oregon Parks and Recreation Department in the scenic gorge recreational area. BASE jumping is prohibited due in part to the public alarm of those witnessing the activity. BASE jumpers’ landings often cause them to trespass on a major railroad lines. These landings have caused injuries, fatalities, and risk to rescuers having to negotiate steep, unstable, and rugged terrain during prior BASE jumping mishaps at this site.
“People who engage in illegal or ill advised high risk outdoor activities are not thinking how their behavior will affect others.” said Sheriff’s Office Field Operations Lieutenant Mark Matsushima. “While there are exceptions, many of them care only about the thrills of this activity and not the possible outcome when things go wrong”.
“No emergency responder, whether paid or volunteer, has an obligation to become injured or lose their life to rescue someone in a situation that person got into because of their own reckless behavior. Emergency Responders do, however, have an obligation to respond. In turn, it is the obligation to those responders of anyone who engages in high risk outdoor activities to at the very least engage in them lawfully while exercising due care and diligence to minimize rescuer risk or to aid in their own rescue.”
While Lieutenant Matsushima is grateful for the second call that cancelled any further response, he wishes to remind the BASE jumpers that many emergency responders, both paid and volunteer, had already deployed and many more were prepared to put themselves at risk on the steep, unstable, and rugged terrain where the event occurred. He also advises that they would have faced several criminal charges and the interest of the Department of Homeland Security for the disruption of national rail traffic.
BASE is an acronym for these locations (Building, Antenna, Span (bridge), and Earth (cliff)) which are theoretically high enough to offer a very limited opportunity to briefly free fall and safely open a parachute. Because of the high potential for and often site history of serious injury or death, BASE jumping is prohibited at many managed sites out of liability and safety concerns.