Friday, April 28, 2006

Virginia and the Jumper

Yesterday was a beautiful day in the neighborhood. So beautiful, in fact, that I decided to skip the subway and walk all the way from my place on 45th to my audition on 19th.

And it happened again! Twice in one week! I was at the audition and ran into Virginia there (another buddy from the National Comedy Theatre). It's starting to become fun running into friends while I am out and about.

The audition was quick and painless. Virginia had to work in the area at 6:00 so she asked if I'd kill some time with her. We walked up to 32nd so we would be in the general area of where she had to be and I noticed a bunch of people across the street looking up into the air. Some of them were pointing and their attention was drawn to the Empire State Building.

It didn't take long before we heard people murmuring...someone was going to jump! We looked up but couldn't see anything. Soon, though, a guy beside us told us that he wasn't trying to commit suicide up there, he was a base jumper who goes onto places that are illegal to base jump off of and...well...he base jumps off of them. He was the guy who, in the not-too-distant past, jumped off of the Eiffel Tower. I recalled hearing about it.

The Guy said the Base Jumper had been up there for about 45 minutes, so he probably wasn't going to make it. He pointed out to us where to look and we could see a small crowd gathered in one part of the top of the building. Apparently the authorities nabbed him as soon as they saw him scaling the protective railing (which I guess goes to show the security in NY is better than in Paris).

Virginia asked the guy how he knew what was going on and the guy was really coy and finally admitted his friend was part of the Base Jumper's "crew". Whatever. I wasn't 100% sold on the guy's story but it turns out it was true. There are a couple of articles about it here.

About 10 minutes later the crowd on the top of the building disappeared and the Base Jumper's plot had been foiled. While we were there, a heavy set guy (he looked kind of like the live action version of the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons) walked by and declared "It's a human life, people, not entertainment." How wrong he was. If the guy has a parachute, it is entertainment. I realize he thought the guy was going to commit suicide, but the crowd still loathed him. Party pooper.

So I didn't get to see someone jump off the Empire State Building but I did feel like I was in a movie. The crowd on the street below looking up at the building, the confusion...I was soooo waiting for Spider-Man to swing in and save the day.

But he didn't.

From the New York Daily News:
Cops stop fall guy
Foil Empire State jumper

A dopey daredevil hellbent on parachuting off the Empire State Building was plucked from the brink of disaster yesterday in a breathtaking drama that played out on a narrow ledge more than 1,000 feet above city streets.

As scores of tourists watched in stunned disbelief, TV stunt show star Jeb Corliss ripped off an old fat man disguise - and scaled the 10-foot security fence around the 86th-floor observation deck.

He was precariously perched on a ledge far above 33rd St. and ready to jump, when security guards and cops reached through the fence and handcuffed the dodging dodo to the bars as witnesses gasped, cameras clicked and videotape rolled.

"Dude, you guys are going to kill me!" Corliss screamed as he tried to wriggle free. "You guys are going to kill me right now.

"Let me go!"

The 30-year-old Californian wore a helmet fitted with a camera, likely hoping to film his 1,050-foot plunge - with no regard for the safety of people on the streets below - for "Stunt Junkies," a Discovery Channel show he hosts.
But cops and security guards, who had been tipped the death-wish scheme by someone claiming to be worried about Corliss, weren't going to allow his latest attempt at twisted glory.

He had snuck into the storied skycraper around 4:30 p.m. wearing a $15,000 fat suit, a gray wig and a latex mask with a gray beard.

But once on the observation deck, he went into a bathroom, tore off the suit to reveal a parachute underneath, dashed to the curled railing and climbed it.

But he was slowed down by security guard Kevin Downes, who had chased him from the bathroom, giving cops and other security personnel precious seconds to leap into action.

"He was resistant. He tried to push off with his feet. He was fighting with us to get off," said Timothy Donohue, a building manager.

One unidentified woman was so upset she thrust a fistful of cash at Corliss and tried to bribe him to come back.
Donohue and others finally got a good grip on Corliss' harness before cuffing him.

"He wasn't going without me and I really didn't want to go for the ride," said Donohue. "It's New York City, it's rush hour. It is not the time to jump off buildings."

ESU cops with bolt cutters eventually snapped the cuffs, removed a portion of the fence and pulled Corliss back to safety, ending a 15-minute struggle. He kept his latex mask on until it was clear the only way he was reaching terra firma was in an elevator.

Outside the building, Corliss was grinning like a fool as cops - who had rushed to the top terror target - hauled him away. Meanwhile, Downes was taken to Bellevue Hospital with head and ankle injuries.

Corliss charged last night with a number of crimes including reckless endangerment, assault and resisting arrest.
"I wouldn't describe him as a daredevil," said NYPD Deputy Inspector James McCarthy. "I would describe him as an individual who obviously showed a depraved indifference for human life.

"In the worst case scenario, his parachute doesn't open and he kills a number of people walking by."
Still, the afternoon drama at New York's tallest building gave visitors a show they'll never forget.

Dennis Hook, 68, an English tourist, said, he thought the nail-biting spectacle "was a joke at the beginning. There was someone in a King Kong suit walking around so it looked like a show. It was unbelievable."

Dutch tourists Edu De Neve, 57, his wife, Garda, and sons Mattijs, 27, and Guido, 25, were stunned by the sight of about 20 cops racing onto the observation deck to help subdue Corliss.

"It was something to see," said Garda De Neve, 57, shaking her head in wonder.

Although she had been reluctant to come to the U.S. due to terrorism fears and the incident yesterday was less than a treat for the Dutch family, she said of her first visit to New York, "I love it here."

Corliss is no stranger to risky business.

He's chuted off the Palace Hotel here, the Skylon Tower in Niagara falls as well as the giant Petronas Towers in Malaysia.

His antics on the Empire State may have been timed to bring attention to the 102-story building's 75th birthday Monday.

"It was absolutely unreal," said a visibly shaken Mark Skelton, who is chaperoning a high school band from Cleveland, Ga. on a visit here. "You'd never think this kind of thing would happen."

Skelton's daughter, Erin, 15, couldn't help but giggle: "I think it all was pretty cool."

Towering legacy

The Empire State Building, which turns 75 Monday, has seen its share of triumph, tragedy - and stunts.
Here's a look at some key events:
MAY 1, 1931 - The world's tallest building opens, reaffirming American ingenuity in the depths of the Great Depression.
MARCH 2, 1933 - The blockbuster film "King Kong" seals the skyscraper's place in the world's imagination.
JULY 28, 1945 - A B-25 bomber plows into the 79th floor of the building in dense fog, killing 14 people.
APRIL 24, 1986 - Two British men parachute from the 86th floor observation deck. One got into a taxi, chute and all, but another was caught when he got snagged on a traffic light.
FEB. 23, 1997 - A gunman opens fire on the observation deck, killing one person and wounding six others before turning the weapon on himself.
OCT. 24, 1998 - Two daredevils escape after they parachute from the observation deck.
At least 35 people have killed themselves by plunging from the observation deck.

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