Let’s preface this editorial by saying that we’re glad the UW-Stout student Mason Barth is alive and well.
But let’s add this: We’re also glad the 20-year-old Neillsville native is being held to account for his reckless actions.
Barth BASE jumped last week from a 300-foot Charter Communications tower in Menomonie. The stunt went awry when his parachute got tangled in a guy wire and he was left dangling about 50 feet from the ground. BASE stands for building, antenna, span and earth, which are the fixed structures from which thrill-seeking jumpers launch themselves into the air.
Barth has been charged with a count of criminal trespassing on an energy-provider property. He has a pre-trial conference slated for Dec. 10.
“You always want to make sure you’re not trespassing on private property. You don’t know the situation and in addition to the safety risks, it’s a criminal offense,” Brenna Jasper, a crime-prevention specialist at the Menomonie Police Department, said in a story by Travis Nyhus of the Dunn County News. “This particular gentleman is extremely lucky that he wasn’t injured and that we were able to get him down safely and have such a successful resolution.”
Barth was taken to a local hospital, treated and released. The rescue effort involved a police department that, according to its website, has 27 sworn officers and handles more than 16,000 calls a year, the Menomonie Fire Department and the Menomonie Street Department.
Barth, who spent about two hours dangling from the wire, was quick to credit emergency personnel in a follow-up story by Nyhus.
“I just really want to emphasize how much I appreciate the people that helped me that day,” Barth said. “They were a very good crew and they did their job perfectly.”
Nevertheless, their services could have been put to better use elsewhere. What if there was an emergency at the same time at another place and response times were affected by Barth’s reckless act?
“There’s all kinds of ways to do things like BASE jump, those types of thrill-seeking activities safely and legally,” Jasper said, “so it’s just important to take the proper precautions when you’re wanting to do those things.”
In the U.S., according to a National Geographic magazine report, “BASE jumping is banned at all national parks but is allowed in Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service spaces.”
Jumpers also are allowed at a site in Twin Falls, Idaho, and, once a year, at one in Fayetteville, West Virginia.
“The sport has remained largely underground because of its danger and the fact that jumpers are often required to trespass, burgle or pick locks to access launch points,” reads a recent Washington Post story. “One study found BASE jumping is five to eight times as dangerous as skydiving. An online magazine maintains a list of fatalities in the sport. It numbers 377.”
BASE jumping and the more advanced “sport” of wingsuit BASE jumping are particularly popular in Europe because of its suitable geographic features and relaxed regulations. But even across the pond some prohibitions have been put at place because BASE jumping can put rescue personnel at risk.
Admittedly, breaking the law can be one of the thrills some jumpers are seeking. That doesn’t change the fact that they — and, in this case, Barth — should obey the rules.
A few letters to the editor were critical of the Leader-Telegram’s coverage of Barth’s stunt. But it’s important to note that reporting on an act or event is not at all the same as endorsing it. BASE jumping is a rarity in the Chippewa Valley, which makes it newsworthy.
Even so, this incident will serve as a valuable lesson for both Barth and others considering such acts. It may seem “cool” to jump from structures hundreds of feet in the air. What’s not “cool” is putting oneself and others in dangerous situations and taxing the emergency-response resources.