On a Wing and a Risk Assessment

The term “risk taking” automatically conjures up the idea of something reckless and ill-considered, but risk taking is really about how you get reward.

There is little that sounds more reckless than wingsuit BASE jumping.  BASE stands for Building, Antenna, Span (i.e. bridge) and Earth (usually cliff or high ridge) as these are the things that you jump off when doing this sport.  The wingsuit is a nylon all-in-one with flaps under the arms and between the legs that makes you look something like a flying squirrel.

A typical “flight” or fall may involve a drop of 1,500 metres in a little over a minute before you open your parachute.  Since the inception of this sport, around 300 people are known to have died doing it.  The reward, they say, is not some adrenalin rush but an unimaginable feeling of freedom, a sense of invincibility, if only for a minute.

Whilst it sounds a crazy activity, it is approached very seriously.  The jumpers train a lot.  They jump out of planes a lot and become highly capable at manoeuvring in the air before opening their parachute.  They study maps and use laser range-finders to fully understand the topography of their chosen “exit point”.  They also study the deaths of other wingsuiters (risk events, you might say) to understand what might have gone wrong and to learn from it.  And before a jump, they usually go through a checklist, like a pilot would before a flight, and if anything doesn’t check off, they walk back down the mountain.

Wingsuit BASE jumpers have the appetite for this, and that appetite is down to having heightened their capabilities and having fully understood the risks.  And they feel the reward is more than worth it.

Data Sources: The Economist magazine, Wikipedia

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