The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

October 20, 2012

Catapult to add more thrills to Bridge Day

FAYETTEVILLE — As if jumping off an 876-foot bridge wasn’t scary and exciting enough, some thrill seekers will get some help from a catapult during this year’s Bridge Day.

Jason Bell owns the company that coordinates BASE jumping at the annual event in Fayetteville.

A mechanical engineer, Bell designed and built a 2,500-pound steel catapult that will launch parachutists on Saturday. The catapult will be available to only a few dozen highly experienced jumpers. As of Friday afternoon, there were seven slots still available for $99.

Bell said the catapult will hurl jumpers 20 feet vertically and 50 feet horizontally from a steel chair.

As part of their payment, jumpers will be allowed multiple jumps from the catapult and will receive a copy of a video taken from the top of the catapult chair. Catapult users were required to attend a training session on Friday.

BASE jumping involves parachuting from bridges, buildings or other fixed objects. BASE jumping from the New River Gorge Bridge is only permitted on Bridge Day.

According to the Bridge Day website, Bell got the idea for the catapult after watching one used in Switzerland. A similar device is used on the ABC show “Wipeout.”

The Bridge Day catapult was tested in August and September. A tentative schedule calls for at least two people to be launched every 30 minutes starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

BASE jumpers also can leap off the bridge the conventional way, and there’s a zipline available to them for the seventh straight year. The zipline stretches 700 feet down from the bridge’s beams to Fayette Station Road.

More than 300 rappellers from 22 teams also will be descending up and down the bridge, a Bridge Day tradition since 1992.

The weather forecast for Fayetteville calls for a chance of showers in the morning with highs in the mid-50s.

For people who don’t plan to attend, the state Division of Tourism has partnered with the Bridge Day Committee to offer live streaming of the BASE jumping from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Bridge Day is the largest extreme sports event in the world and draws thousands of visitors to the New River Gorge,” said Tourism Commissioner Betty Carver. “For those not able to attend this year’s event, we are excited to offer live footage of all the fun.”



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