By Sarah Plummer
Onlookers were shocked when a BASE jumper’s parachute did not fully open around 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the 32nd annual Bridge Day celebration in Fayetteville and he was airlifted to Charleston Area Medical Center in critical condition after jumping 876 feet from the top of New River Gorge Bridge.
The jumper, Christopher Ryan Brewer, 27, of Pensacola, Fla., suffered a pelvic fracture, lung injuries and a spine injury, according to Jeff West, chief ranger for New River Gorge National River.
The Bridge Day event drew more than 100,000 visitors, according to event organizers, and more than 400 BASE (Bridge, Antenna, Span, Earth) jumpers. The event is the only time the extreme sporting enthusiasts can legally jump from the steel arch span bridge, with only registered and closely supervised participants allowed to jump.
First responders Saturday said Brewer was conscious and responsive when rescued from New River. After he was recovered from the water, he was stabilized by medical personnel stationed at the landing zone beneath the bridge, and loaded for transport by helicopter via HealthNet Aeromedical Services within 15 minutes of the incident.
Emergency response teams estimated Brewer struck the water at a speed between 60 and 80 miles per hour, somewhat less than terminal velocity, and that his wingsuit, designed to allow a jumper to glide forward instead of falling straight down, may have helped slow his descent and save his life.
West said Brewer was in stable condition Saturday evening, and a spokesperson from Charleston Area Medical Center confirmed he remained in stable condition but “still under evaluation” Sunday evening.
The incident is under investigation by the National Park Service.
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