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BASE Jumping and « risky behavior », tools of assessment and control for the safety of the practising

BASE jumping and « risky behavior »

– Tools of assessment and control for the safety of the practising –

(en Français)


Pushing the limits of its powers, explore new territories, face the danger is part of the human genes. If it is no longer a vital necessity as at the time of of the pre-history men, the simulacrum through sport « extreme » is also a way to feel alive by finding thrills, but how far?

The terrible events of this season (22 deaths in 2013 not counting the many serious injuries) back on the table the issue of safety in our sport. The word that comes up most often in discussions here and there (forums, Facebook groups) is the « competence », « skills« , summarized by the term « expertise ». It also speaks of « ego » although actually the flagship activity of the wingsuit (32% of fatalities since 1991 but growth since 2011 with 50 %, 68 % in 2012 and 81 % in 2013!) seems now more akin to an « excellence » contest ( and raze ! ) as a way of wisdom. We also advanced beginners, their willingness to go fast or « grilling » of learning steps ( see, fashion = influence, media = image, product = marketing). Unfortunately the series of recent accidents involves only one true beginner in the sport (with 10 BASE jumps jump for one experiment), the others being considered experienced BASE jump but perhaps not all « experts » wingsuit pilots (the vehicle is it the direct cause of accidents? 90% no). Some would like the practice sites are not shared (informations, guide) but kept secret, which is impossible with internet including videos posted by practitioners on social « tribe » networks, no more accident is not related to misinterpretation of a guide of « paralpinisme » (cliff jumps or mountain) or its distribution ( the vast majority never find a site on its own, but with a regular or local).

But I sincerely think we are far from a problem of expertise in the BASE jumping accident, even if the lack or excess of expertise can be a factor, I would tend to the « risky behavior« .


Many studies have been done on the « risky behavior«  especially among young people and driving, drugs or certain games or ordeal lines (1) (« staged his death lived with risk-taking as a test that can successfully traverse or as a sequence of death followed by resurrection »), but also in sports and those called «  extreme « . It is not very complicated to go digging to find out what it is, if you really want to find solutions to this growing accident.

« More mundanely, it should be noted that the sense of control, the intimate feeling of control over the situation radically changes the relationship of the subject to risk, which may here be compared to the « professional » risk as stunt, matadors, all extreme sports. » (Marc value, Games and pathological behavior ordeal)

Should we always send on roses people trying to shed light and reflection share their knowledge, under the pretext that they know nothing about the « proxy » or BASE jumping? This attitude is called « denial of questioning » and has its roots in « risky behavior« .

It is obvious that a comprehensive study on the real causes of all accidents ( fatal and nonfatal ) would be beneficial for our sport, because how to find a cure when we do not know the causes of disease? But there are also some taboos , the « unsaid », to fall in accidents , Achilles heel of supermen, and free speech is probably the most difficult in an often uncompromising environment with their peers. The injured person, with a sense of guilt or shame or pride scorned, and therefore prefers not to talk about it, lest also be pointed especially publicly. Few dare BASE jumpers do their « mea culpa » in public , the most famous is Reiner Ebert who survived a 2012 wingsuit crash in the forest ( spot Brevent , Chamonix ) without having had time to open his parachute and confided later to a TV channel and website questioning the excesses of his own practice. A good example to follow!

The goal is not to judge but to try to find ways that make it easy to identify a « risky behavior«  and addressed to avoid the accident.

What is a « risky behavior »?

A « risky behavior«  is an individual attitude, conscious or subconscious, troubled (or dictated) by different vectors personal, biological, intellectual, emotional, social, drugs A person who is in a « risky behavior«  is a person who no longer able to grasp the reality of the danger at the present time. This danger may be personal (fatigue, group euphoria for example) or environmental (bad weather conditions, technical jump for example). It also includes this in the  » human factors «  well known in aviation and whose pilots are subject to strict protocols before each flight as well as regular medical visits including eyesight.

But we need to look first on the personality and the real motivation, deep, of the subject which want to engage in a dangerous sport and  » expose itself to risks beyond imperative objective related to survival « . Besides the fact that sport for adults is an extension of the game of childhood, sometimes with ordeal lines, studies have shown that « addiction » to adrenaline (quickly deletes any emotion for not immediate survival) would also in the individual phenomenon of « pharmacological mimicry«  (identical to the effect of drug use).


Personality in center of « risky behavior »:

According to the psycho-biological model (C. Robert Cloninger), 4 basic temperaments inherited form by mixing the features of the individual:

           1 / novelty seeking > push the boundaries, like thrills

           2 / avoidance of pain > fear of injury, trauma of previous accident

           3 / reward dependence > external judgment, personal development

           4 / persistence despite adverse effects > marginalization, anxiety

Different observations would show that there exists the relationship between novelty seeking and dopamine (2) between the avoidance of pain and serotonin (3), and between reward dependence and norepinephrine (4) . It is a fact that high in search of new trends, without fear of injury and indifferent to the contrary view of the environment is a risk sport a form of « addiction without substance« . We also note an underestimation of risk in these individuals in search of thrills.

Stress management and risk-taking:

There are 3 types of strategic reactions induced by stress due to risk-taking and danger.

1 / centered on emotion > I move quickly to the action to feel better

2 / centered on avoidance > I quickly digress

3 / centered on the problem > I try to analyze and understand

For addicts, the strategy focuses on the problem is not existing, which tends to show that a person with a « risky behavior » little or no tools used to identify the danger and take conclusions then adapt a reasoned choice of practice.

« The increase in heart rate is accompanied by a significant decrease in the awareness and a significant increase in automation « earthling » , and this even in the group of experts. Indeed, if the group of experts present during the various phases of diving, good awareness , it decreases considerably in complex or stressful situations. This tends to confirm the need to keep a conscious control « core functions » face « difficult » situations. Thenceforth , exit  » automation  » of these functions, even with the expertise … » ( FFESSM , Behavioral Research diver immersion)

The negative results of addiction:

Dependence thrills causes an automatic addiction will deal only with « negative emotions » at the expense of the physical integrity and results in negative consequences. It is common to see in high-level alpinists their willingness to push the limits even further, then ending up with an empty feeling at the end of each shipment, and then look for a new « more more » (the majority of the top great mountaineers 80-2000 years died for failing to stop in time). BASE jumper in the missing will lead to devote more time to this activity, often to buy new more efficient equipment, to seek partners in the same spirit as him and push his personal capacity on more jumps increasingly difficult.


Danger, security and freedom:

BASE jump, they say, is freedom but what freedom in the background? I think some practice so truly free, without being dictated by social codes, recognition, fashion, some more by imitation than a real personal approach or curiosity. We are all under the influence and sometimes it is good to realize that this influence can be dangerous excesses.

Unlike shirk by saying that show images of « terrain flying  » ( 5) ever more spectacular or other high-level acrobatics has no influence on all practitioners, it is rather under estimate the identification and models search phenomenon in our societies (which is then reflected through the ownership of the trademark « tribe » with which the « hero » realizes his exploits, « guarantee of performance and expertise » phenomenon that manufacturers have understood for a long time) . Fortunately solo climbing is a few accessible activity, because the release of the film « life at your fingertips » with Patrick Edlinger there were many dead! Fortunately as each climber still « naturally » consciousness that with and without rope is not the same game! Unfortunately in BASE jumping is too late to realize his mistake after the exit pulse is given or that the pinetree comes in its path . But the rope for the climber does not prevent the accident, it just reduces the risk of death at every moment of his practice, as the parachute at the BASE jumper .

We must therefore make a real difference in individual behavior. Choose to go BASE jumping or wingsuit from a cliff from cliffs is a « risk behavior » with a thrill-seeking and ultimately a greater likelihood of addiction. The shade is the individual himself, his heredity, experiences, abilities, intelligence… and safety in practice is also linked to the individual.

« Keep an open mind: You will learn something from every BASE jump and from every interaction with other BASE jumpers, if you allow yourself to learn. In BASE, knowledge is safety, and safety is life. Ignorance and complacency commonly result in death. » (Matt Gerdes, The great book of BASE)

The tools of risk management :

The main tool to manage risk and ensure its own physical integrity is before all things, itself!

Practice BASE jumping, wingsuit flying in the mountains requires maturity and wisdom. Good personal knowledge is essential to be able to identify its « through » and handle stress. To be clear about  » its achievements and shortcomings  » concerning the activity is a safeguard to misstep or crossing the red line. Then a re- issue and the personal development or regular training is a guarantee not to over-estimate. The family environment , good choice of partners , listening and openness limit confinement in a destructive addiction and blindness. Finally, all sporting of the « extreme » needs to have a healthy lifestyle, the excess alcohol or psychotropic especially before each jump is to be avoided (and I ‘ve seen!). The inhibitions by alcohol forget the dangers and psychotropic disrupt the nervous system and slow down dramatically the neuromuscular reflex responses!

Extreme sport = extreme body, perhaps we should also know when to stop or slow down when the response of our body is no longer adequate and below the alert.


Is there a simple evaluation tool? Many criteria can be taken into account for a jump and it’s everyone to know and evaluate it first passes by very good foundation of learning that will define the rules of the art and techniques assessment of a jump, for minimum playing safe. It would be suicidal or unconscious to do without master « the ins or outs« .

To go further, the concept of « risk management » has been introduced in recent years in the activities of free ride skiing with the  » method of reducing risk factors for avalanche «  and  » Method 3×3  » (6 ). Some paralpinistes working as a high mountain guides tried to implement a similar system implemented in practice. The main fail I found there, is the notion of « variable margin » (zone: green, orange or red), a concept that is subjective on the one hand and allows risk-taking more or less at the estimate of person. I think that a jump should not be performed if a single factor is not positive, it is the « right » rule. However, the final decision comes down to the individual himself, if he feels he can jump in spite of one or more negative signs there actually his behavior is risk-taking« !

It should also be noted that the analytical capacity is a part of the learned skill or not (see learning) and therefore are likely to lead to errors of judgment (aerology, for example) or shunts (no control of the wind, for example) .

Learn to evaluate and control the elements of a safety practice:

I propose a simple evaluation of specific points in time 3 time steps (in « Day-1« , on the spot and at the exit) and the principle of strict On-Off (avoids risk of subjective taking « it starts raining but I’ll still jump, I have the margin to manage« ). I remember that this model is independent of the level of technical skills in free fall or tracking or flying wingsuit, that fall influence the decision-making as the model « 3×3« .

The day « D » , what are the overriding factors of danger and reverse safety criteria?

Step 1 / Preparation « Planning » > done the day before at least , assuming you had the intelligence to go with good weather forecast, your full physical capacity and mental resources, with the right equipment in good condition and well prepared, this jump is to your level and no technical unknowns.

# 5 points > Fitness – Hardware – Skills – Line – Weather

# If only 1 of 5 criteria  » negative  » = danger = not make the jump! See next time.

# If 5/5 criteria  » positive  » = go to step 2

Step 2 / Check « Control » > done before the jump on the spot, checking jump hardware, exit control (height, pushed, axis), vizualisation of the flight line or fall delay (jump program), identification of potential hazards (ledges, trees, river, lake, sea, power lines, houses… ), location of landing zones (main and backup), observation wind force (thermal wall and valley breeze) .

# 6 points > Hardware – Exit – Delay – Hazards – Landing – Wind

# If only 1 of 6 criteria  » negative  » = danger = not make the jump ! Back at home.

# If 6/6 criteria  » positive  » = go to step 3

Step 3 / Mentalizing « Concentration » > done at the exit a few seconds before jumping, reduced stress (mental, cardiac, respiratory, muscular), repeating the PC openning motion, jump sequence with the « 5 Good » ( good start, good timing in fall, good opening, good canopy control, good landing) .

# 3 points > Stress – PilotChute – 5 Good

# If only 1/3 negative criteria = danger = not make the jump ! Return to step 2 or at home.

# If 3/3 criteria « positive » = ok ready to jump

Evaluation grid and control of « accident factors » for a reasoned decision:

I call it  » PCC  » method > Planning Control Concentration

Synthesis « in 3 steps » of the « right » questions to ask before to make a BASE jump and whatever the level of technical skills in freefall, tracking or wingsuit flying:



day « D-1 » home






If 5/5

 = OK




day « D » spot







If 6/6

= OK



day « D » exit




If 3/3

= OK

Go Jump !


And never forget the debriefing of the jump, which is always a plus to identify and correct some errors for the next one.

Some real examples of accidents:

1 / Bill X is jumping a cliff slider down in « 2 ways » with a friend, handled PC, but when he releases the PC to open his parachute, PC swells into the relative wind pulling all lengh of the bridle away behind him without opening the rig and without pulling the canopy. Bill X had just forgotten to connect correctly the bridle to the canopy!

This inattention could have been detected in step 1 at home « prepare its equipment » and step 2 on the spot « check equipment ». On the spot the doubt about our rig should be prior, and it is better to open his rig than to die. Personally, as I often jump slider up or down or wingsuit with different king of PC or bridle, I always check at each packing the attachment of PC to bridle and bridle to canopy, and before the jump bridle to canopy.

2 / Adam Y and a friend will jump a high cliff slider up and planned to do some acrobatics . Adam Y then jumps attempting a front flip but fails to turn falling head down then failing to recover flat until at the last moment he pull its PC and crashes on a ledge without the canipy had time out. The two friends were in the habit of doing the gainer ( back flip straight legs ) because they do not feel comfortable making a classic start flat. Adam X wanted to inaugurate a new figure but it does not mastered at all.

This error should have been detected before at step 1 from  » Do I have enough skills?  » In step 2 to the top  » program of jump » and 3 to exit  » 5 Good ». The acrobatic should be mentalized before jumping, and must absolutely be repeat until mastery from bridge before going cliff. Bad learning, overestimation, lack of knowledge, not work on its weaknesses, are all « human » risk factors.

3 / Augus Z is on a famous spot in Switzerland and plans to jump wingsuit with five other friends. They discuss aerological conditions and plan the jump and the landing, but omit the power lines close the field. Augus Z start before the last one and flies longer trying to overcome the power lines and managed opening but then too low for his canopy stops the fall before the ground.

Typically an error in step 2  » identify hazard dangers  » +  » flight planning  » and step 3  » 5 Good ». It is important to make different plans of flying according to the perform of its flight and hazard dangers around. Landing zone should be check all time before going to the top of exit. A common risk is wanting to scratch wingsuit flight to go further by forgetting his floor margin opening ( often beginners mistakes ) with a visual which is in front and not vertical.


It seems to me that everyone should have a reflection on practice and motivations and find its own « risk behavior » that can change along the course of his career and his life. Jumps groups are also more factors to this behavior because there is a form of disempowerment, euphoria, distortion of reality, forget or shunt. Studies in other areas is shown (7 times more accidents among young people when they are in a car than if they are alone). But do not believe that jumping alone protects more. What protects the day « D », out of good technical skills, is to know to be rational, to be afraid, to listen, to know how to analyze a jump, have the method, to be patient, but also about living… and also to avoid any form of psychotropic tranquilizers before.

« Hasten slowly , and without losing courage Twenty times on put your handiwork , Buff it constantly , and repolish , Add sometimes , and often clear. » ( Nicolas Boileau )

We must be aware of the effect of addiction on his behavior and especially his judgments, and that the risk is to get his need welfare (initiated by a lack) before its physical integrity in voluntarily assessing the real danger. Many activities such as diving, free ride skiing, aviation involve recurring assessment and control tools to greatly reduce the « risk-taking » and consequently accidents. It is quite possible to do so for BASE jumping and wingsuit flights in the mountains. If one starts from the premise that we are not suicidal, prevent accidents and all injuries or death should be a priority at every jump, because luck is a wildcard that only chance mastered!

For me the « safety » is synonymous with not « risk behavior » and the whole sport would benefit from the hunt. A simple rational analysis and monitoring tools (such as my « PCC » method described above), as a checklist for a pilot, is a safeguard to the subjectivity, emotions and risk-taking that would result .

As I like to repeat to friends : « beware of the worm that you let in the apple, because this apple, worm will one day devour« .

( c) 2013 / Jérôme Rochelle « Jéronimo »

Thank you to Francois Esteve (Professor of Biophysics and Nuclear Medicine in Grenoble and BASE jumper ) for review and comments.


# Notes:

(1) Ordeal behavior > need to play with his death or stimulate its existence

(2) dopamine > neurotransmitter in the central nervous system

(3) sérotonine > neurotransmitter in the central nervous system

(4) noradrénaline > adrenergic hormone and neurotransmitter

(5) proxy flying > with a wingsuit is to fly as close as possible from relief (ridges, cliffs, forests), sometimes only a few meters

(6) method « 3×3 » > support tools of decision in avalanche risk

# Bibliography:

Fatality List BASE jump > Death reports and statistics in BASE jump

Swiss Medical Magazine > « Adrenalineaddiction » and risk-taking behavior in sports: what reality?

Marc Valleur > Pathologic games and Ordeal behaviors

Sociology > Playing with gravity plural sociological approach to engaging in dangerous sports

GREPS > Risky behavior in scubadiving

FFESSM > Behavioral Research diver immersion

Cave diving > Regulation of cave diving

Patrick Baudry > The extreme body, sociological approach to risk behavior

Bioethic > Psychiatry and risk behaviors

Colloques > The role of sports heroes tribes in the supply of snow equipment

Mohamed Rahmouni > Human factors

ENSTA > Introductions to human factors, concepts and methods

Road safety > Main factors of accidents

# Technical ressources:

Matt Gerdes > The great book of BASE

BASE Sessions > Coaching and learning in BASE jumping

Paralpinisme association > Information on the practice and defense sites, affiliate FFCAM