Climber Dean Potter Killed in Wingsuit Accident

Dean Potter, seen here during a 2009 film festival, died May 16 after a wingsuit accident in Yosemite National Park. (Photo: Filmfest St. Anton [CC by 3.0]/Wikimedia Commons)

On Saturday, just as nightfall was descending on Yosemite National Park, legendary climber Dean Potter and Graham Hunt BASE jumped from Taft Point. The granite promontory offered stunning views of Yosemite, rising 3,000 feet above the valley floor. For Potter and Hunt, however, it was the perfect spot to leap into the void and soar through the air utilizing wingsuit technology to glide, before pulling parachutes to land far below.

For Potter, an internationally recognized extreme athlete known for his daring free-climbing exploits, BASE-jumping stunts, and record-breaking ascents, this was just another day at the office.

"I'm addicted to the heightened awareness I get when there's a death consequence," he told ESPN in 2008. "My vision is sharper, and I'm more sensitive to sounds, my sense of balance and the beauty all around me. A lot of my creativity comes from this nearly insane obsession. Something sparkles in my mind, and then nothing else in life matters."

According to the NY Times, a short time after Potter and Hunt dove off Taft Point, the pair died attempting to "clear a notch in the granite cliffs." Neither of the men had pulled a parachute. Potter was 43 and Graham was 29.

"We're very sad about Dean Potter's death, but not very surprised," climber Doug Robinson told the BBC. "He was pushing the envelope all this life in climbing, BASE jumping, and wingsuit flying."

He added: "He knew that he was out on the edge and taking risks and he went into it very clear-eyed."

Potter will be best remembered for his record-setting solo climbs, including Yosemite's Half Dome and El Capitan, and his controversial 2006 ascent of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. He also invented a new kind of sport called FreeBASE, in which he wore a parachute for protection in case he fell from a solo climb. Last year, Potter and his beloved dog Whisper made history with the "world's fist wingsuit BASE-jumping dog."

According to BlincMagazine, there have been 256 reported wingsuit fatalities since 1981, with a record 24 deaths in 2014. In a post to Instagram only two weeks ago, Potter acknowledged the increase in fatalities over the last few years, but remained optimistic he could avoid a similar fate.

"I don't fool myself thinking I'm any better than my fallen brothers and sisters, but I do stack the odds in my favor and focus everything in my power to #fly conservatively, so I'll hopefully be around to see this incredible new #outdoor #artform beyond its infancy," he wrote. "It's compelling to be a part of the #evolution of true #humanflight and I'm enthralled where it's going."