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The impact of British jumpers in developing BASE in the early days
You guys have just made the whole world jumpable – Carl Boenish
The early days of BASE and the impact British BASE jumpers had in developing BASE is not commonly known.
My first BASE jump was El Capitan on the 4th September 1980, in 1981 Frank Donnellan showed me a letter from Carl Boenish which mentioned that they had formed a BASE Association and what you needed to do to qualify for your BASE number. My brother Pete had just returned from America having jumped a TV mast. I asked my brother, “Do TV masts like that exist in the UK?“, whereupon he showed me a pilots' map that has all of them recorded also the height. The hunt was now on! I discovered Mendlesham TV mast and on the 17th Oct 1981 four of us completed the first BASE jumps in the UK – in my case using a National 26 foot round reserve, as I had no other canopy to jump.
It was around this time that in Europe some jumpers had stretched their parachutes out on the railings of a Bridge and jumped off, Carl Boenish then introduced a rule stating for it to be counted as a BASE jump the parachute had to be packed in the container.
The lowest BASE jump recorded around that time was in America at five hundred and eighty feet using Piglet reserves on static line. Our problem in the UK was we had nothing of real height so Frank and I had decided we would have to go over to America to finish our BASE jumps. One day on the drop zone a jumper asked me about CRW and how far does a guy who has a collapsed parachute fall before his parachute re-inflates. As I was answering the question it hit me that I had just come up with the solution to low level BASE jumps; leave the slider down when packing the parachute, don’t use a bag and put the parachute on a static line using a 100lb breaking strain cord. Clifton Suspension bridge was chosen at two hundred and forty five feet in Nov 1981. Exactly as I predicted happened; the parachutes were open in fifty feet and what’s more, with our packing method, we had on-heading openings. I recorded the first British night BASE jump.
In December 1981 Frank and I completed our BASE jumps and I was awarded BASE#14, Carl Boenish flew to the UK to find out how we had done it. After I explained to him how I came up with the idea and the packing method we showed him the pictures, Carl burst into a big smile and said “you guys have just made the whole world jumpable”. Low level BASE jumping took off. In early 1982 when I completed my jump off Beer head I qualified as British BASE#1.
The first mention of using a larger pilot chute for BASE was by a British guy called Al James, recorded in the American BASE magazine.
Andy Guest, the author of this article, has written an autobiography of his amazing life, Type T. Recently published, you can check it out here