How the New River Gorge Bridge Was JumpedSeptember 27, 2011
Anyone familiar with Bridge Day knows that one of the biggest draws of the event is watching 400 or so base jumpers heave themselves off a mountain of steel in hopes of gliding to a stop some 876
But what very few people know, even the seasoned Bridge Day veterans, is how this semi-crazed spectacle first came about.
The very first “Bridge Day” was in 1977; really, it was Governor Jay Rockefeller’s open house to showcase this magnificent feat of engineering upon completion. At the time, the Bridge was the longest single steel arch bridge in the world and the Grand Opening ceremony was designed to let the people of WV experience this marvel by walking across it and taking in the view.
Originally, Bridge Day was supposed to be a one-time event. But the massive turnout lead to Bridge Day becoming an annual festival, starting in 1981. The first Official Bridge day was held on November 8th and featured two skydivers jumping onto the Bridge and 5 jumpers plunging from the deck into the Gorge. These were the first “legal” jumps from the Bridge.
The rest, they say, is history.
The First Jumper
Now, a little disclaimer: the actual first jump had occurred nearly two years earlier, and in true WV style, it was completed by a coal miner. Burton Ervin, a mine foreman from Cowen, made the first official jump from the Bridge on August 17, 1979 at 10:20 pm. It was witnessed by around 200 people and yes, he did land in the water.
The first five legal jumpers on the first official Bridge Day were:
* Mig Fernandez
* Dennis Wood
* Ken Hamilton
* Andy MacIntyre
* Jerry Waters
Other “known” jumpers (before it was a legal Bridge Day event) included:
* John Noak
* Brad Smith
* Brian Hinni
* Greg Lawson
Other Bridge Day Entertainment
B.A.S.E. jumperslaunching themselves off the bridge has become a huge part of the festival. But
there have always been other activities that taking place on Bridge Day.
Since 1992, rappellers have been dropping some 600 feet down to the tracks on the south side of the Bridge during the event. A few hearty souls even ascend that same line back up to the Bridge. Rappelling is now open to the public, but it’s available on a first come basis, so early registration is key.
In 1984 Mark Chamberlain and Martin Lyster bungee jumped while riding an inflatable pink elephant off the deck. Talk about a spectacle.
In 1992, Chris Allum from New Zealand set a world record for the longest bungee from a solid object. In 1993, he set another record with a 7-person bungee from the Bridge. This was the last time anyone has flung themselves off the Bridge strapped to a rubber band.
And now this year, tandem B.A.S.E. jumps will be allowed for the first time. Who knows what will be next?
Would you like to jump off the Bridge?