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'I owe them my life': BASE jumper who dangled from cliff for hours thanks rescuers
Published Friday, May 18, 2018 1:42PM PDT Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2018 3:39PM PDT
The man who spent hours dangling precariously from a parachute on the side of the Stawamus Chief Thursday is thanking his rescuers for their incredible, death-defying work.
Victoria, B.C. resident Nathan Anderson is an experienced BASE jumper, estimating he's performed the hair-raising stunt nearly 130 times before. But when he leapt from the popular Squamish hiking destination Thursday, Anderson hit a crosswind that could have cost him his life.
His parachute hooked onto a rock shelf about halfway up the 702-metre mountain, leaving him suspended in the air, where he would remain for over three hours.
"There's a lot of jumps that happen on this thing – probably hundreds a month every summer – and they go off uneventfully and we never hear about them," Anderson told CTV News. "This was a pretty unlucky break for me."
Fortunately, he was able to reach his cellphone and call for help. He credits his previous parachuting experience for giving him the mental discipline to stay calm in such a terrifying situation.
While he waited for rescuers, Anderson held the parachute tight so it wouldn’t inflate, potentially pulling him off the perch to what could easily have been a fatal fall.
Meanwhile, a specialized rope team from Squamish Search and Rescue was airlifted onto the Chief by helicopter, and one member rappelled down the cliff to reach Anderson's location.
Rescuers considered a number of ways to get Anderson down, but initially were not entirely certain how they would pull it off.
"It's not a typical rescue (where) someone twisted their ankle. It's highly technical," search manager Landon James said. "It's something we train for, but not our everyday call."
In the end, the team was able to secure Anderson, unhook his parachute and hoist him back up the mountain to safety. The relieved BASE jumper, who required just three stitches after the ordeal, said he understands how unbelievably lucky he was to have Squamish SAR's help.
"Those guys, I mean, they risked their life for me," he said. "My gratitude is – I just can't describe it."
Just two years ago, a former U.S. Marine from Seattle was killed in a BASE jumping accident on the same mountain. Gary Kremer's parachute failed to deploy during a jump from the Stawamus Chief in June 2016, and he crash-landed near the Sea-to-Sky highway.
Though Anderson defends the sport – believing it gets a "bad rap" for accidents that are rarer than they might seem – he acknowledges it nearly cost him everything. Thankfully, his rescuers ensured he would live to tell the tale.
"I owe them my life," he said. "I wouldn't be here without them."
Though some observers have argued Anderson and other thrill-seekers should be billed for rescuers' time, search and rescue groups in B.C. are staunchly opposed to billing people, including skiers who intentionally go out of bounds.
The B.C. Search and Rescue Association said even the perception that someone who is lost or injured could be charged can lead them to delay calling for help, or even avoid the volunteers who are looking for them.
"The BCSARA will conduct search and rescue missions when requested to do so by the authorized tasking agencies for persons in danger or distress in the province of BC without charge," the organization says in its official position statement. "Our goal is to save lives."