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Further Reading

Casualty Report

Jumping to Conclusions

When Risk-Taking Takes Lives

by Heather Zeiger

Famous motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel once said, "The people don't come to see me die. They come to see me defy death."1 While death-defying stunts are not new, the ability for anyone to become internet-famous by doing them is. The opportunity to combine thrill-seeking and notoriety has led to a surge in the number of self-uploaded or live-streamed videos of individuals engaging in extreme sports like BASE jumping.

Article originally appeared in
Salvo 41

BASE jumping resembles skydiving, only instead of jumping from an airplane, the individual jumps from a stationary height; "BASE" is an acronym standing for the most common jumping-off points: Building, Antenna, Span (bridge), and Earth (cliff). In addition to wearing a parachute, some BASE jumpers will also don a "wingsuit," which gives them more mobility in the air.

The inherent danger of sports like BASE jumping forms part of their appeal, for both participants and viewers. But as the popularity of such activities grows, so does the death toll. Here are some relevant statistics.

BASE Jumping

• Between 1981 and 2004, 84 people died from BASE jumping, an average of about 3.7 deaths per year.2

• After YouTube launched in 2005, 226 people have died from BASE jumping, or about 18 deaths per year.3

• In 2016, there were 17 BASE jumping deaths in August alone, the majority of which were of jumpers wearing a wingsuit.4

• The fatality rate for BASE jumping is about 1 death for every 2,317 jumps.5

For Comparison:

• In 2016, there were 21 skydiving deaths out of 3.6 million jumps,6 or 1 death for every 171,429 jumps.

• In the 2013–2014 season, there were 32 skiing or snowboarding deaths, amounting to less than 1 death per million skiers or snowboarders.7

Some Viewing Statistics:

• 8 million people watched Felix Baumgartner skydive from the stratosphere on YouTube in 2012 in a stunt sponsored by Red Bull.8

• 2 million people have accessed the YouTube video of wingsuit BASE jumper Armin Schmieder, who streamed his own accidental death on Facebook Live.9

• Of people who live-stream, 17% use Facebook Live, 16% use YouTube. The rest use Snapchat, Periscope, Twitter, and others.10

Selfie-Related Fatalities

The numbers below are from a study using rigorous methods to determine the number of selfie-related deaths worldwide from 2014 to mid-2016.11 They are likely much lower than the actual numbers because in many cases only the direct cause of a death was officially reported, such as drowning or falling, even though the fatal incident was instigated by the attempt to take an "epic" selfie.

• 75 people died while attempting to take a selfie, in 52 incidents.

• 61 of the victims, or 82%, were males, although women take more selfies than men.

• The mean age of the victims was 23.3.

• The country with the most reported incidents is India, followed by Russia and the U.S.

• The top three causes of selfie-related deaths were falls (24 victims), drowning (21 victims), and being hit by a train (15 victims).

Another study covering the same time period12 yielded a smaller total of selfie-related fatalities, but otherwise similar statistics.

• 30% of all photos taken by 18-to-24-year-olds are selfies.

• Since 2014, 49 people have died while attempting to take a selfie.

• 36 of the victims, or 75%, were males.

• The mean age of the victims was 21.

• 19 deaths, or almost 40%, took place in India, most by drowning, with Russia and the U.S. following at a relatively distant second and third.

• The top three causes of selfie-related deaths were falls (16 victims), drowning (14 victims), and being hit by a train (8 victims).

Dangerous selfie-taking has become such a concern in India and Russia that both countries have designated certain areas as "No Selfie Zones." The city of Mumbai, India, alone has designated 16 such areas.13

Interview with Stephen Megison

by Heather Zeiger

On March 13, 2017, I talked with Stephen Megison, a skydiving enthusiast who has completed 900 jumps, 500 of them with a wingsuit. Stephen is also a middle-school science teacher, and there is a picture in the school library of him in mid-air holding his favorite book.

Megison knows many people in both the skydiving and the BASE jumping communities, so I asked him why skydiving has significantly fewer accidents and fatalities. He replied:

I personally don't believe that skydivers necessarily prioritize safety more, but they do have more room for error. There are many things that could go wrong in skydiving, but the consequence is not death. Many times, if the situation is handled correctly, then everything is fine.

Most [skydiving] deaths are attributed to complacency and overconfidence. Many times, these are the people who do not respect the inherent risk of the sport. There is just ZERO room for error in certain types of BASE jumping.

Megison's motivations for skydiving are more akin to those of an athlete who wants to challenge himself than those of an adrenaline junkie or someone addicted to accumulating "likes" on Facebook. I asked him if he thought YouTube and live streaming have changed some people's motivations for engaging in death-defying stunts:

Without a doubt, cameras and YouTube fame have caused people to push way too far past their limits. People constantly want to have their moment in the spotlight, and we can see in many activities, not just skydiving and BASE jumping, that to get the attention, you have to be "bigger and better," which in many cases means more and more dangerous. Sadly, I have known quite a few people who have died in the sport of wingsuit BASE [jumping]. . . . When people want fame and notoriety, they are more likely to throw caution to the wind. •

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