B.A.S.E. jumper probably dead after escape
Authorities believe a missing man who eluded Yosemite National Park rangers following his successful parachute jump off El Capitan is a Tahoe resident. They also think he is dead.
Yosemite park ranger Kendell Thompson said authorities “don’t know for sure who it is,” but current information indicates the jumper was Squaw Valley resident Frank Gambalie, 28.
B.A.S.E., Building Antennae Span Earth jumping, is a relative of skydiving whereby a jumper free-falls off of fixed objects briefly before opening his or her chute. It is illegal in Yosemite.
Gambalie is suspected of jumping off of the 3,000 foot monolith on June 9 at 5:30 a.m. After rangers spotted him and gave chase, the jumper dove into the Merced River where he was last spotted. All search and rescue attempts to locate the man have been unsuccessful.
According to Thompson, the two rangers, once they noticed the open parachute, made voice contact with the jumper, who did not respond, and attempted to rendezvous at the landing site. The suspect, who apparently was an experienced B.A.S.E. jumper, cut loose from his chute and ran without hesitation to the southwest toward the Merced River and the rangers pursued him on foot.
The rangers chased the jumper to the bank of the Merced and from a distance of approximately 50 yards saw him dive in to a section of flat water just before the river dropped into a narrow stretch of extremely dangerous rapids and high water. Reports show water temperature at the time was 45 degrees Fahrenheit and water flow was roughly 3,000 cubic feet per second. The last place the jumper was seen was swimming upstream across the river just before the rapids, Thompson said.
A search for the man immediately ensued on both sides of the river and roads in the park, utilizing search and rescue teams, dogs and helicopters. Although the search lasted for several days no clues were uncovered. Along with different Internet postings by Gambalie’s family members on the Web site http://www.baselogic.com, authorities presume him dead.
“The search is essentially over, but the case is still under investigation,” Thompson stated. Due to the length of time and conditions, identification of the body may be difficult.
A Mandatory Appearance ticket is issued to caught offenders and fines for B.A.S.E. jumping in Yosemite range from $500 to $2,000.
B.A.S.E. jumping has a long history in Yosemite where people have been parachuting off formations since the late 1970s. There was no regulation of B.A.S.E. jumping until 1980 when park officials, with the assistance of the United States Parachuting Association, instituted a trial period for jumping in Yosemite. The trial period mandated that jumpers be permitted, accredited by the USPA, could only jump individually and not in tandem or in groups, and during certain times of day with a daily permit quota.
After three months, the trial period ended when studies showed that “B.A.S.E. jumping effected wildlife – peregrine falcons in particular – that it was a hazard to spectators, there were too many injuries to jumpers and people were still making illegal jumps,” said Thompson. B.A.S.E. jumping has been illegal since. Hang gliding, however, is legal with a permit in Yosemite.
There are numerous illegal jumps made every year in Yosemite and there have been several fatalities, the most recent in 1996 when an Arizona man got caught up on El Capitan after he employed his chute and nearly hit two climbers who were on the wall.
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