Oklahoma City Council to vote on ordinance to prohibit parachuting from downtown buildings
Oklahoma City fire Lt. Dane Yaw imagines parachuting from a downtown building would be like diving into a concrete canyon.
Wind patterns are unpredictable and easily could push a glider into another structure. There's the chance the parachute could become tangled in wires or could malfunction, leaving the jumper to fall hundreds of feet to the pavement, he said.
Despite the risks, two men parachuted from the Devon tower last spring and were greeted at the ground by a police officer.
“There's always that fringe population that's going to push the boundaries,” Yaw said. “People are going to do all the things insurance companies shiver at.”
Bo Jack Baxter, 30, and Waylon Clay Litchfield, 34, were arrested on trespassing complaints because Oklahoma City doesn't have a law that prohibits BASE jumping, the practice of parachuting from fixed objects. The acronym stands for buildings, antennas, spans and earth.
But the Oklahoma City Council is considering an ordinance to prohibit this type of activity and climbing on the outside of buildings. The council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance Tuesday.
Public safety issue
Police Chief Bill Citty said there have been minor incidents with BASE jumping through the years, but the Devon tower case really grabbed the attention of officials.
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Security at the Devon tower alerted police that two men with parachuting equipment were inside the tower about 2:40 a.m. April 24. It's unknown how high the men were when they jumped, but it appeared to be above the 30th floor of the 50-story skyscraper.
Baxter and Litchfield declined to talk about the incident for this story because of pending litigation.
“We wanted to address all buildings and all towers,” Citty said. “There's a significant public safety issue here because it's not very controlled and obviously they're trespassing on somebody else's property where it's not authorized.”
The proposed ordinance prohibits parachuting or climbing on buildings without consent. Citty said it allows for sanctioned repelling or controlled events.
“In an uncontrolled environment ... it's a high-risk activity that we want to deter,” Citty said.
Yaw, 41, said he has been on many rescue calls with the Oklahoma City Fire Department, but has yet to rescue a BASE jumper.
He said people involved in the sport climb to about 250 feet at a minimum before jumping from a structure.
“It's an extremely dangerous sport,” Yaw said. “Everybody could potentially be in danger. If they have a mechanical malfunction and their chute doesn't open and they go in for a hard landing, you're in that path.”
Maj. Richard Calvert said firefighters can be placed in dangerous situations if they have to rescue a parachutist who gets tangled in power lines or construction equipment.
“There are areas on those cranes that are not made for humans to be on out on the extended ends of them,” Calvert said. “If they snag their chute on the tip of that crane, there's no easy access to that.”
Some places allow people to legally BASE jump with permits. He said people should take advantage of those opportunities instead of putting the public at risk.
Another option would be skydiving, Calvert said.
“They take you to a safe landing zone and if there are winds then they have a buffer zone outside of that,” he said. “These BASE jumpers do not have a clear zone to land in, normally.”
Tiffany Gibson has worked for The Oklahoman since August 2011 and is a member of the enterprise team and digital desk. In addition to writing and web editing, she creates interactive features for NewsOK.com and assists with data visualization and... Read more ›