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Claremont man, 73, dies BASE jumping in Idaho

A 73-year-old Claremont resident died Thursday while BASE jumping from a Twin Falls, Idaho bridge, according to Reuters. The Perrine Bridge is a popular spot for the extreme sport, 500 feet above the Snake River.

Jim Hickey, a 40-year Claremont resident, was pronounced dead at a nearby dock after a boat retrieved him from the water.

Mr. Hickey likely died upon impact with the water after his parachute failed to open on time. He is the second person to die this year jumping from the bridge, where an estimated 500 people jump annually.

Mr. Hickey was featured in a February 2009 edition of the Claremont COURIER, when newspaper staff joined him in Lake Elsinore to document Mr. Hickey’s skydiving jump number 1,829.

 “There’s a feeling of happiness and joy—there’s exhilaration in the dive and the canopy ride, plus you’re landing and everything is okay,” he said. “It’s fun and exciting. And it elevates my mood. All my senses are being engaged. It’s exhilarating.”

In 2009, just two years after taking up the sport, Mr. Hickey had jumped from over 20 different aircrafts, including helicopters, hot air balloons, DC3s, acrobatic planes and, his favorite, jets.

“I like the jet. It’s less common. And two times as fast,” Mr. Hickey said. Taking up skydiving at such a late age—he was 64 when he took his first jump—Mr. Hickey earned a spot in a V8 juice advertising campaign, “Long Live Vegetables,” which showcased people over 60 living life to the fullest.

He had accumulated almost 2000 jumps in just his first two years and, as noted in the COURIER, spent nearly every weekend at Skydive Elsinore. The 40-year Claremont resident noted that he frequently jumped 15 times in a day, but 10 was more typical.

Mr. Hickey had completed four dives from 30,000 feet (on average, he jumps from approximately 12,500 feet), an altitude that requires an oxygen tank.

At 30,000 feet, Mr. Hickey had been dropped as far as four miles from the landing zone, flying the distance and landing on target, and counting swimming pools along the way, as reported by the COURIER.

“You just keep your eye on where the zone is and make sure you’re flying in the right direction,” said the recently retired city of Los Angeles chief tax compliance officer. “It’s exciting to fly that distance and see things normal skydivers don’t see.”

On the late January morning of his jump out of Lake Elsinore, COURIER reporter Brenda Bolinger made note that Mr. Hickey wore in a wingsuit—a special outfit with fabric sewn between the legs and under the arms, reminiscent of a flying squirrel. The wingsuit allows jumpers to better control their horizontal glide distance and manipulate their vertical speed to prolong freefall time.

That Thursday morning in 2009, Mr. Hickey had suited up in his red wingsuit, eager to get off the ground and in the sky. High winds had momentarily grounded Mr. Hickey and his friends aboard the Super Twin Otter. Such conditions didn’t bother Mr. Hickey, the COURIER reported—in fact, they’re welcomed for creating additional challenges, such as landing on target, which on occasion is impossible.

Mr. Hickey talked about “pack number two,” the emergency parachute worn by skydivers, and said he had depended upon his reserve chute four times.

“It’s kind of funny or odd, I was so focused on solving the problem, I didn’t panic. I wasn’t scared,” Mr. Hickey said.

One of his jumping partners in Lake Elsinore, a barefoot skydiver named Dave Tirello, had nothing but admiration for Mr. Hickey’s zest for adventure.

“It’s awesome to see someone his age up there,” Mr. Tirello said. “He’s hardcore. He’s nonstop. He’s more dedicated than anyone here.”

In 2009, Mr. Hickey was just getting involved with BASE jumping, the more dangerous form of skydiving where the diver jumps from a fixed object. BASE is the acronym representing the four categories of objects: Building, Antenna, Span and Earth.

“The progression would be, I’ve done a bridge, next would be to do an antenna, then I’d probably do some cliffs and lastly would be some buildings,” he explained in 2009.

With smaller landing zones, a much shorter proximity to the ground and the presence of a stationary object to potentially strike on the way down, BASE jumping is far riskier than regular skydiving and is considered by many to be a fringe, extreme sport or stunt. The potential danger didn’t thwart Mr. Hickey. As he told the COURIER in 2009, “Bring it on.”

Mr. Hickey is survived by his wife of 42 years, Marie, and his daughter Maureen. No funeral arrangements have been announced.

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