October 21, 2006
Jumper Dies at W.Va. Bridge Day
FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. - Thousands of people watched a parachutist jump to his death from a bridge during a popular festival Saturday when his chute opened too late, a sheriff said.
Brian Lee Schubert, 66, died of injuries suffered when he hit the New River, 876 feet below the New River Gorge Bridge, officials said. After the man's body was recovered and taken to a local funeral home, jumping at the festival resumed, said Fayette County Sheriff Bill Laird.
Schubert, from Alta Loma, Calif., was an experienced BASE jumper, said Laird. He was taking part in West Virginia's annual Bridge Day festival, which typically draws an estimated 100,000 spectators and about 400 parachutists to the southern part of the state.
Lew Whitener, a newspaper photographer covering the event for the Register-Herald of Beckley, said it appeared the chute didn't start to open until the man was about 25 feet above the water.
The crowd below the bridge gave a "collective gasp" when people realized the chute was not opening, he said.
"It was everybody kind of held their breath then an eerie silence afterward. Everybody kind of looked at each other and said 'Wow,'" Whitener said.
A large rock obscured the crowd's view of the man's body hitting the water, Whitener said.
The fatality is the first since 1987 at the popular event. For one day a year, the National Park Service allows people to parachute off the world's second largest single-span bridge to the national river below. To qualify to jump off the bridge, applicants must have skydived at least 50 times.
There were a total of 804 separate jumps between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., Laird said. Nearly 400 jumpers from 13 countries participated, and several minor injuries were reported. Laird said the jumping was allowed to continue because it didn't appear weather was a factor in the accident.
"No measurable winds or anything would appear to have contributed to adverse conditions making this any more dangerous than base jumping would ordinarily be," Laird said.
The sport of BASE jumping involves parachuting off buildings, antennae, spans and earth. Since 1981, there have been at least 100 BASE-jump fatalities around the world, according to the World BASE Fatality List, a Web site maintained by a BASE jumper.