Dean Potter Dies in Wingsuit Accident

On Saturday evening, May 16, BASE jumpers Dean Potter and Graham Hunt died after attempting a wingsuit flight from Taft Point, a 7,500-foot promontory that overlooks Yosemite Valley and El Capitan.

Potter has been a fixture on the climbing and BASE-jumping scene in Yosemite since the late 1990s. According to Yosemite chief of staff Mike Gauthier, the pair made the jump late Saturday. Their spotter heard two sounds that could have been impacts or could have been the noises made by parachutes snapping open. She followed standard protocols, first trying to reach the pair by radio, with no luck, and then moving to a predetermined meeting place. “They were optimistic, thinking that the men might have been arrested,” says Gauthier. BASE jumping is illegal in Yosemite National Park.

Dean Potter

Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) initiated a hasty search, but the rangers were unable to locate the pair overnight. Potter and Hunt had been attempting to fly along terrain that required them to clear a notch in a rocky ridgeline. “It’s kind of a trickier flight to go through this notch,” Gauthier says. On Sunday morning, a state police helicopter was able to spot both bodies from the air. No parachutes had been deployed. Two rangers were then airlifted to the site to perform the recovery.

Survivors include Potter’s girlfriend Jennifer Rapp and his dog, Whisper, a blue heeler who has played a prominent role in Potter’s adventure life for the past few years.

Earlier this month, Potter set the record for the fastest ascent of Half Dome, one of Yosemite’s iconic monoliths. He completed it through a combination of trail running and free-soloing, or climbing without a rope. Potter also held the record for the longest wingsuit flight, covering nearly four miles (6.5km) of ground in 2 minutes, 50 seconds, after jumping from the Eiger in Switzerland.

In November, after the release of the adventure film Valley Uprising, sports nutrition company Clif Bar dropped its decade-long sponsorship of Potter, along with four other athletes that were shown Base jumping and free-soloing. Clif indicated that the athletes’ degree of risk made the company uncomfortable. The energy-bar maker cut financial support for the athletes but continued to promote the film.

Potter made his home in Yosemite with girlfriend Jennifer Rapp and his dog, Whisper. Though his dog had accompanied him on previous jumps, she was not in Potter’s backpack on Saturday.

Potter first came to prominence in Yosemite in the late nineties, when he began making bold solo and free-solo ascents of many of the park’s classic rock routes. By the middle aughts, he’d elevated slacklining—tightrope walking on a piece of webbing—to an extreme art form, making safe crossings of such notable features as Lost Arrow Spire, in Yosemite, and the Three Gossips feature in Arches National Park. Many times he’d make these crossings with no safety tether.

Potter came under fire in 2006 after he free soloed Delicate Arch, in Arches National Park, a sandstone feature that appears on Utah license plates. After the Delicate Arch climb, sponsor Patagonia dropped both Potter and his wife at the time, climber and BASE jumper Steph Davis. Potter always maintained that the ascent was both lawful and respectful. “I was just climbing a beautiful rock that hadn’t been free climbed before,” he told me in February.

Potter continued to innovate in the world of extreme sports. In 2008, he climbed the 5.12 Deep Blue Sea route on the north face of Switzerland’s 13,020-foot Eiger with only a parachute on his back. He dubbed the sport free-basing. He also began crossing highlines using a parachute for safety.

Last year Potter and Rapp produced a film called When Dogs Fly that chronicled Potter’s adventures BASE jumping with his dog, Whisper. The eventual footage of Whisper, wearing goggles and cinched between Potter’s back and his parachute pack, became an online sensation, though some people worried about Whisper’s safety.

Potter was 43.

Source:  Outsideonline.com & theguardian.com

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10 Responses to Dean Potter Dies in Wingsuit Accident

  1. michael May 18, 2015 at 8:09 am #

    RIP Dean.

  2. Patrick May 18, 2015 at 9:00 am #

    Total bummer. RIP. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Brenda May 18, 2015 at 9:38 am #

    We are not unbreakable. He has made his mark. Living life to the full. RIP, Dean.

  4. nish May 18, 2015 at 9:46 am #

    Taft point is 3500ft.

    • nish May 18, 2015 at 10:01 am #

      Altitude vs drop.

  5. nish May 18, 2015 at 10:03 am #

    Altitude vs drop.

  6. mokganjetsi (Willem B) May 18, 2015 at 10:48 am #

    so sad 🙁 another legend gone

    From the guardian: “In an interview with climber Jimmy Chin last spring, Potter explained he had become more committed to flying safely as he lost friends to the sport: “This past month, four friends died wingsuit flying, one of whom was my very good friend and wingman, Sean Leary,” Potter said.”

    Got to ask yourself if it is worthwhile……

  7. Albert May 18, 2015 at 4:53 pm #

    RIP Dean.
    You were a true legend of your time and inspired many a young climber and slackliner.

  8. Justin Lawson May 21, 2015 at 11:06 am #

    Dean Potter, who died BASE jumping in Yosemite National Park, gravitated toward what scared him most, rock climber Alex Honnold tells CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

    –> http://www.climbing.co.za/2015/05/alex-honnold-talks-to-cnn-about-dean-potter/

  9. Justin Lawson May 26, 2015 at 9:04 pm #

    Why late base jumper Dean Potter lived to risk his life?
    Flmmaker Nick Rosen joins Friday guest host Gill Deacon to discuss Dean Potter’s life and the culture of extreme sports.

    http://www.cbc.ca/radio/popup/audio/player.html?autoPlay=true&clipIds=2667692229

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