Page 8 of 8
Although there's little traffic on the streets, an "open" sign still glows in the window of a nearby bar just after midnight on a mild December morning.
From the street, there is only silence as one of the silhouettes drops from the edge down the side of the building. The black form takes on human shape with arms and legs as it passes window after window, falling too far, it seems. Three seconds pass. It takes only five seconds to hit the ground.
But then the chute explodes open. The sound is a crinkling of Christmas wrapping paper before a sonic boom that reverberates from the glass and stone and steel of downtown.
It is a sound of safety. The chute's forty lines come out straight. Its seven chambers fill with air. It slows the jumper's fall.
But the chute is pointed too far left. The jumper is flying straight into another building. He pulls down on his right control line, and the chute turns, but not quickly enough. The jumper is still 50 feet off the ground. The left edge of his chute scrapes the corner of the building with the sound of a Frisbee bouncing off the sidewalk. But the chute doesn't collapse.
Another second later, the jumper lands in the middle of an empty intersection, his heel slamming hard into the asphalt, his knees buckling, his chute floating to the street. Dressed in all black, he bundles up his parachute in his arms and limps to the curb behind a Pitch newspaper box, an orange construction sign and a streetlight pole.
Three more jumpers follow, one after another. They pull their chutes earlier and soar to the north. The chute of one falls over the back of a moving car. Another jumper is spooked by a woman who happens to drive by as he lands. "Nice jump," she says.
The first jumper looks like a homeless ninja wearing a big, black backpack as he walks down the sidewalk to join the others. They've parked their car in a nearby garage. Then they are gone.
Ten minutes later, a police cruiser pulls up across the street from the building. Two officers get out, and one points a tiny flashlight into the sky.
By then, the BASE jumpers are into their first pitcher of beer at the Peanut. They replay digital video taken from a helmet camera and gasp again at the first jumper's near miss. He can't explain why he waited so long to throw his pilot chute. He had expected to soar over the building that almost knocked him down. "I saw the building in front of me and reacted to it and thought I'd be OK until I felt my canopy hit the building," he says later. "From then on it's whatever happens, happens.
"That was probably one of the scariest things I've ever done in my life," he continues. "Standing up on that building, you are so nervous and scared that you could puke."
The female jumper, a veteran of bridge and tower jumps, is vibrating with excitement. "It's probably the most insane jump I've ever been on," she says. "It was an amazing, fulfilling experience. It's just one that kind of makes you crave more."
The night has been a success, and three of the four are stoked. With their first successful "B" jumps, they've earned their BASE numbers.