By Carra Higgins
In the air, BASE jumpers feel a sense of quietness and adrenaline before their canopies of safety and color float them gracefully toward Earth for a soft or hard landing. After a splash in the water, stumbles over rocks or perfect, on-target greeting with the ground, the high fives with friends and excited banter about the 876-foot fall off of New River Gorge Bridge during the 33rd Bridge Day began.
Saturday was Indiana resident Nickie May’s first jump off the famous bridge.
“I loved it,” she said, dripping wet after she was pulled from the water by one of the rescue boats.
She made the trip with Jess Bridges, who has made the jump 20 times. Mays was instructed by Bridges to hit the water instead of the beach landing area.
Bridges said he got into BASE jumping because “I wasn’t smart enough to resist peer pressure.”
As Rob Harris, of Tecumseh, Mich., re-packed his parachute with friends for another go-round, he explained this was his third trip to Bridge Day and he had made the journey with 10 friends.
“All my friends jumped off a bridge; why wouldn’t I?” he said.
Just watching the jumpers on the boat dock were Jackie Zinn and John Lesher of Charlotte, N.C. It was their first Bridge Day; they had made the journey to Fayetteville to see the 33rd event and take in the Mountain State’s fall scenery.
“It’s really great,” Zinn said of his first Bridge Day.
Back at the targeted landing zone, jumpers were greeted by their friends with “that was super sick” and “wait till you see the footage” and “I got my water landing.”
Arlette Donzey, originally from Germany but who now lives in Atlanta, Ga., stood out as she floated toward the beach thanks to her pants made of many fabrics. Donzey said she made the trip with 10 friends and has been to Bridge Day a total of four times. Then she rushed to the bus station to take her back to the top where she would jump again.
For many jumpers, it was their goal to jump as many times as possible. They even rented multiple parachutes to ensure as many jumps as possible — rentals cost between $250 to $350. Buying the proper rigging cost around $2,000, one jumper said.
Of the hundreds who were jumping, one couple was on the list of must-sees for many spectators. Patrick Steiner and Erika Terranova Steiner got married on top of the bridge during a train passing, got rigged and jumped. Patrick Steiner jumped first and his new bride, dressed in a white sweatsuit, went tandem.
Patrick Steiner landed on the beach while Erika Steiner got a little more than cake in her face by landing in the water, like she was told to do the night before. The soaked and muddy bride and her husband told media at the bottom of the gorge that they were planning to go change and celebrate their nuptials and jumps with family, friends and a few thousand others, nearly 900 feet above.