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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 22 Oct 96 10:43:51 -0700
Excerpted-from: WhiteBoard News for Monday, October 21, 1996
Fayetteville, West Virginia:
Chris Stokely walked the plank Saturday, happily stepping off into hundreds
of feet of nothing but air and plummeting into the depths of the New River
"Thank you, West Virginia!" the 24-year-old from Houston yelled as he made
a legal parachute jump from a four-lane highway bridge.
Stokely was one of nearly 400 parachutists who signed up to take advantage
of the 17th annual Bridge Day, a celebration of the 876-foot-high,
steel-arch span that bypassed a two-lane track twisting up and down the
gorge's steep sides.
"If I had a brain I wouldn't be doing this," said Mike Murphy of Hickory,
North Carolina, who jumped last year and returned Saturday dressed as the
scarecrow from "The Wizard of Oz."
His friend, Tony Herring of Rock Hill, South Carolina, was dressed as the
movie's cowardly lion. "I'm looking for some courage big-time. I'm scared
to death," he said.
It's the nation's second-highest bridge, behind Colorado's 1,053-foot Royal
Gorge Bridge over the Arkansas River.
Bridge Day is the only time pedestrians and jumpers are allowed onto the
1,700-foot steel span carrying U.S. 19 across the gorge about 40 miles
southeast of Charleston.
Jumpers climbed onto a flatbed trailer parked on the bridge, walked a
3-foot-wide plank to the railing and leaped into the tree-lined New River
Gorge National River.
The majority of the jumpers who dare the annual plunge land on the shore,
but most years some splash into the rocky river and others stray into trees,
suffering cuts and even broken bones. On Saturday, five of the early jumpers
were taken to a hospital with back and ankle injuries, rescue officials
"The ground comes right at you," said Eric Byrd, of Huntington, who
successfully jumped on Saturday.
Three people have died during Bridge Day, the last in 1987.
"When you stand at the edge, you know you're dead. When you get to the
bottom and open your eyes, it's like you're reborn," said Mike Masterov of
Houston, who was taking part in his third Bridge Day.
"It doesn't get any scarier than this," said his girlfriend, Tina Femea of
Houston, whom he met at the 1994 Bridge Day. "It's something you spend your
life not doing. You're not supposed to jump off things and fall."
"When you jump, all your problems disappear, money problems, relationship
problems, whatever, it doesn't matter," said Stormy Swarthout, 20, of
Modesto, California, who has made more than 100 regular sky dives but came
here Saturday for her first bridge jump.
When someone discovers grandma's been locked in her apartment for four days,
who do you call? When a construction worker falls off scaffolding straight
down a manhole, who do you call? There's no 911 in Russia.
But there is 007 -- the cellular phone number you can call to get retired
KGB officer Alexander Shabalov's company, Security Center of Flexible
On contract to the city to provide emergency rescue services, SCFT's action
teams come roaring to the rescue of Muscovites every day.
They arrive in Shabalov's spy-fantasy "multifunctional vehicles" --
converted Land Rovers, bristling with high-tech readiness and emblazoned
with the company's winged logo that looks like Batman's.
The rescue units are guided from Shabalov's headquarters by cellular phones,
and equipped for every eventuality: rappelling devices, winches, scanners
to detect listening devices in buildings, extinguishers for 11 different
kinds of fires, satellite navigation systems accurate within 15 feet, and
a contraption called "Diana," a 50-foot roadblock that accordions out from
the undercarriage of the Land Rover with explosive-loaded spikes.
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© 1996 Peter Langston