NEW: Friend: Dean Potter "was a very, very gifted extreme athlete"
The bodies of Potter and Graham Hunt were found Sunday by a helicopter
They had reportedly attempted a wingsuit flight into Yosemite Valley from Taft Point
Extreme sports legend Dean Potter was one of two BASE jumpers found dead in Yosemite National Park after attempting an aerial descent from Taft Point, authorities said.
The two men’s bodies were located during a helicopter search around noon Sunday, said Scott Gediman, a spokesman for the park.
Potter, 43, and Graham Hunt, 29, were reported missing late Saturday by friends, Gediman said. The two had jumped from Taft Point, a scenic overhang, into Yosemite Valley, a descent of roughly 3,500 feet.
It wasn’t immediately clear what had caused their jump to go fatally wrong. The pair are believed to have jumped together, but were reportedly found at different points. BASE jumping is illegal in Yosemite Park.
The magazine Outside reported on its website that Potter and Hunt were attempting a wingsuit flight from Taft Point.
Potter was renowned for his climbing, tightrope walking and wingsuit exploits – and for sometimes taking his dog, Whisper, along for the ride in a backpack.
’Premonition of falling to my death’
A resident of Yosemite, Potter redefined the boundaries of climbing with solo ascents of famous rock faces without a rope or tether, taking just a small parachute for safety. He also set records for BASE jumping with a wing suit and precarious walks across high lines.
“He loved to do things like that,” said Charles “Chongo Chuck” Tucker, a close friend of Potter. “He was a very, very gifted extreme athlete, and he was just able to do things that other people … were not able to do, so he just kept on doing them.”
Potter said he was driven to attempt such jaw-dropping feats by a desire to overcome a childhood fear of falling to his death.
“When I was a little boy, my first memory was a flying dream. In my dream, I flew – and I also fell,” he said in a video interview with Outside published online last year. “I always wondered as I got older if it was some premonition of falling to my death.”
Rather than being cowed by the dream, he turned it into his motivation.
“I started free-soloing harder and harder routes, kind of proving to myself that I could take control of this, pretty much the biggest fear I had – falling to my death,” he said.
Dream of flying unaided
Potter’s fascination with flight led him to study avian aerodynamics and aerospace technology.
His ultimate aim, according to his website, was to safely fly and land the human body unaided.
Safety, Tucker said, was a top priority for the daredevil athlete. Something rare and unexpected must have gone awry on Saturday, he said.
“I wouldn’t have expected this to happen. I don’t even know how it could have happened. I’m really surprised, because Dean was safe,” he said. “These sports, you can be safer than people think, but you just … really can make no mistakes at all. A single mistake, that can be the end of everything.”
Potter’s and Hunt’s deaths are just the latest from the risky extreme sport of BASE jumping. Unlike skydivers, who parachute out of planes, BASE jumpers practice their sport from fixed points like skyscrapers, mountains or bridges. (BASE stands for building, antenna, span and earth.)
At least two people have died so far this year after attempting BASE jumps from the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho. Last year, a newlywed BASE jumper died after plunging about 2,000 feet in Utah’s rugged Zion National Park
Wingsuit flights have also resulted in fatalities, including that of the Hungarian daredevil Victor Kovats in China in 2013.