Extreme athlete Dean Potter was one of two to die in a failed BASE jump on Sunday in Yosemite National Park, authorities report.
Potter and a fellow jumper had climbed the 7,500-foot promontory called Taft Point and jumped with bat-winged suits meant to allow them to glide to the ground. But something went horribly wrong as the parachutes designed to slow their descent never deployed.
After the pair were reported missing, park ranger Scott Gediman said that a helicopter was deployed to search for them. Their bodies were discovered in Yosemite Valley in short order.
Potter and fellow jumper Graham Hunt were a constant presence in extreme sports as well as the Yosemite community.
“This is a horrible incident, and our deepest sympathies go out to their friends and family,” Ranger Gediman said. “This is a huge loss for all of us.”
Potter gained fame for his climbing exploits and extreme BASE jumping (meaning buildings, antennas, spans and earth).
In 2009, Potter set a world record for the longest BASE jump by hurling off the Eiger North Face in Switzerland and staying in flight in a wingsuit for 2 minutes and 50 seconds. The stunt earned him National Geographic magazine’s Adventurer of the Year award.
And while he did gain notoriety and even corporate backing, in the last few years he began to see a loss of support for a variety of reasons.
In 2006, for instance, he lost the support of an outdoor clothing company who dropped him as a spokesman because of his free solo climb of Utah’s iconic Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. Patagonia clothing said that Potter’s climb “compromised access to wild places and generated an inordinate amount of negativity in the climbing community and beyond.”
Last year, Cliff Bar also dropped Potter because it felt that his increasingly dangerous actions were just too much for them to endorse.
Potter has said he recognized the dangers.
“Though sometimes I have felt like I’m above it all and away from any harm, I want people to realize how powerful climbing, extreme sports or any other death-consequence pursuits are,” he wrote on his website in 2014. “There is nothing fake about it whether you see it in real life, on YouTube or in a glamorous commercial.”
BASE jump deaths are increasing and measure at least up to 254 deaths world wide. But those numbers don’t count deaths from failed wingsuits, like those used by Potter and Hunt.
By some estimates, there is one death in every 2,317 BASE jumps. By comparison, among regular sky divers, only one in every 101,083 dies from a jump.
There have been at least five BASE jumping deaths in Yosemite alone.
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