BASE Jumping in Switzerland Village Appalled by Thrill Seekers' Deaths
Part 2: Two Worlds Colliding
In Lauterbrunnen, these two worlds are colliding. The locals in this idyllic Alpine community feel like the residents of a death zone. Meanwhile the BASE jumpers are only interested in their next adrenaline rush. Next week, a BASE jump world cup is set to be contested in the Lauterbrunnen valley.
The jumpers have set up a small camp close to the gondola station, the BASE house. Inside the log cabin with a fireplace, Jonathan, a young American from California, is sitting on a plastic stool. He has bloodshot eyes and a scar on his forehead, having just been released from a hospital after he was caught on a tree during a jump in France. A branch pierced his abdomen and ripped into his bladder. The doctors told him that it would not have happened with an empty bladder. So from now on, he will always urinate before a jump, Jonathan says. He has never even thought about quitting.
'We Would Like to Preserve the Diversity'
The BASE jumpers in Lauterbrunnen take big risks. Anyone who jumps incorrectly, or doesn't judge the wind properly, will probably end up slamming into the cliff -- after which there is no escape. In the past 12 months, six BASE jumpers have fallen to their deaths. But the local authorities do not want to ban the sport -- the region is one of the few in Switzerland which does a better tourist trade in summer than in winter, thanks in part to the BASE jumpers.
Peter Wälchli, the mayor of Lauterbrunnen, sits at his tidy desk in the local government offices, a big man with a round face. "We have everything here for our visitors, apart from the sea. We would like to preserve this diversity and not ban individual sports," says Wälchli.
Then he talks about civil and aviation laws. He knows them well. The same discussion flares up after each fatal accident, and that is when Wälchli says: "The BASE jumpers are acting legally; they are not violating any laws."
Mathias Feuz, the farmer, gets into a rage when he hears his mayor talk like that. Just the other day, an Australian had an accident when his parachute became caught up in the gondola cables. It is just a matter of time before the next tragedy occurs.
"The authorities don't want to ban the jumping because even a dead BASE jumper brings money in," the farmer says angrily. Many in the area would earn some cash in such a case, "the doctor, mountain rescue" and also the hotel and restaurant industry -- "when the relatives travel here," says Feuz.
- Part 1: Village Appalled by Thrill Seekers' Deaths
- Part 2: Two Worlds Colliding