Aussie chutes down from lofty turbine
“Ten seconds…” was the call from a distant voice atop Swaffham's iconic wind turbine.As those below strained to see through Saturday's early morning mist, a figure shuffled onto a platform above the 200ft landmark, nervous but focused.
“Ten seconds…” was the call from a distant voice atop Swaffham's iconic wind turbine.
As those below strained to see through Saturday's early morning mist, a figure shuffled onto a platform above the 200ft landmark, nervous but focused.
A moment's pause, then he jumped - making a short but heart-stopping freefall before his parachute unfurled, guiding him towards the landing zone at the EcoTech Centre.
And with that, the Australian jumper, known only as Douggs, became the first man to legally jump from a wind turbine anywhere in the world.
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The feat has been achieved before illegally - part of the reason the extreme sport of base jumping has suffered from a tag of recklessness, carried out by a few radical individuals with little thought for their own safety or the sanctity of public buildings.
And that is exactly the perception the competitors at the inaugural British Open Base Jumping Championship wanted to dispel as the tournament came to Norfolk.
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Base jumping - parachuting from fixed points like buildings, bridges and antennas - is against the law in some countries, leaving some fanatics needing to flee from police after making their landing.
But with more than 20 competitors from all over the world lining up for this weekend's above-board event, tournament organisers said it was time it was recognised as a legitimate sport.
“It is all about dispelling the image that we are all death-hungry adrenaline junkies,” said Max Hurd, director of UK Pro Base.
“There are a few places where it is actively banned, mainly because to jump off a structure you need to climb up it and the owners don't always give permission. Here, we are trying to prove we can do it to other people's health and safety standards.
“It is not inherently dangerous, but there is no room for error.”
After his successful first jump, Douggs said: “It is a really misjudged sport. People think we have a death wish, but really we have a wish for life.
“In Australia our sport is illegal so the only way to learn is under cover of darkness, which is unfortunate because it is a lot safer to do it in the day. The public don't get to see it because the media only really reports the accidents, which are very few.
“You are scared every single time. I got the shakes when I landed but you have to overcome that fear. It is about assessing the risks and planning everything to make sure nothing goes wrong. It is important to show people we are not just crazy lunatics.
“It is good fun. It is a beautiful place with great visuals and really good people. Why wouldn't you want to do it?”
The competitors aimed to land on a scoring target with a bull's-eye the size of a tennis ball. Each of them had made countless parachute jumps and at least 100 base jumps before being allowed to enter.
Despite the strict safety checks, one British competitor, Steve Moore, proved there was always a risk when his brake lines became tangled, sending him spiralling into dense bushes below the turbine, leaving him with a bruised foot.
The EcoTech Centre's turbine is the only one in the world with a viewing gallery at the top, which can be reached via an exhausting 300-step spiral staircase.
Another base-jumper who climbed it was 36-year-old Londoner Craig Poxon, who is a world-record-holding skydiver after being part of a 400-strong freefall formation in Thailand. He said he had also done his share of illegal jumps.
“I have never been arrested, but I have been chased a few times,” he said. “I'm not proud of it.
“You might think we're crazy but lots of effort and planning goes in to make it as safe as it can be.”