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Bridge Day offers 'adrenaline rush'

FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. -- Before he could think twice, Paul Iglin was shot from a pneumatic steel catapult and launched into free-fall toward the New River, 876 feet below.

"They push the button and, whether or not you want to go, you're going," Iglin said.

Iglin was one of about 450 BASE jumpers who participated in 903 jumps at West Virginia's 34th annual Bridge Day Celebration on Saturday, atop the New River Gorge Bridge. It's the only day to legally jump off of the world's second-largest single-span bridge.

Donald Cripps of Florida returned to jump in his third Bridge Day. At 84, Cripps only jumped once but will submit a video of his jump to the Guinness Book of World Records, as the oldest person to complete a BASE jump.

"It keeps me busy," Cripps said. "It keeps me out of the walking chair."

Iglin, 33, of Cleveland, made his first BASE jump from the bridge in 2003. Many aspects about the event and area keep him coming back.

"I call it my mecca," Iglin said. "It's full of great memories, friends that I sometimes only meet once a year and, overall, it's just a jolly good time."

BASE is an acronym for building, antenna, span and earth. Its enthusiasts jump off fixed points, rather than from an aircraft, for a quick free-fall with a rapidly deployed parachute.

People began lining the edge of the bridge early Saturday to watch the BASE jumpers leap or be launched off the bridge.

One jumper leapt from the platform with a friend on his back before both released their parachutes. Another jumper sailed into the air, tucked into a ball and somersaulted five times in mid-air.

"If I want to go and do some nice, really spectacular BASE jumps that are legal and I can do a couple times a day, I have to go to Europe and spend a lot of money," Iglin said. "[With] this, I can get in my car and be here."

Iglin said the catapult takes jumpers out of their comfort zone. Saturday was his first time being catapulted from the New River Gorge Bridge.

"It's a lot less control," he said, "and a lot more fun."

When spectators weren't watching jumps, they could enjoy food, crafts and entertainment from a variety of vendors stationed near the bridge.

A crowd filled the roadway and surrounding area. The West Virginia State Police closed down U.S. Route 19 for the celebration.

Cindy Dragon, Bridge Day Celebration chairwoman, said Saturday's event was a total success.

"It was a good, steady crowd all day," Dragon said.

Cripps spent 23 years in the military, where he was around planes and parachuting. He isn't sure if he will make it back next year, but has high hopes for his world-record submission.

"I'm looking forward to a safe jump and getting it over with," he said.

Cheryl Morgan received her Bridge Day jumpers' packet the same day she got an AARP application. Morgan, who's from North Carolina, said BASE jumping helps keep her life interesting.

"I said, 'Hey, let's go do a tandem sky dive,'" Morgan said. "I did it and got hooked."

Last year was Morgan's first Bridge Day. She plans to return for more.

"It was scary and awesome," she said. "It's quite the adrenaline rush."

This year, Bridge Day also featured a pogo-stick stunt team. The professional athletes bounced up and down high into the air, flipping and twisting to a cheering crowd.

Dragon said the group hopes to return to the West Virginia event.

No major injuries were reported Saturday, but three or four people were transported to the hospital with broken bones.

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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