Charles Darwin at a green chalkboard.

1999 Darwin Awards

Honoring Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool--by removing themselves from it in the most spectacular way possible.

Yosemite Parachute Safety
1999 Darwin Award Winner Confirmed True by Darwin

Philosophical Question: is Yosemite Grandma eligible for a Darwin Award? In the words of Bob Wilber, "She was dumber than dumb, but she doesn't meet the criteria for a Darwin Award. She was past breeding age, so her stupidity genes have already escaped into her children." Do you agree? Visit our Philosophy Forum and tell us what you think.

Monty Montoya disagrees:
"Cheapskate Grandma deserved to cash in her ticket. I'm a retired Army Paratrooper with twenty years of jumps. Experienced riggers pack our parachutes, but even so, you bet I checked my parachute before a jump. Every time. That way, if the malfunction was due to rigger error, I would know who to seek for revenge from beyond the grave."

Chris says, "BASE Jumping chutes have no rip cord. We hold the parachute in one hand, and release our grip to deploy it. Perhaps in the early days BASE used a rip cord, but not in 1999.

Easy as Falling Off a Cliff
(22 October 1999, California) Yosemite National Park bans parachuting from its majestic cliffs, citing the dangers inherent in practice. But those cliffs are too challenging for BASE jumpers to ignore. Every year, men and women surreptitiously prepare for daredevil plunges into the abyss. Every year, park rangers hunt them down, confiscate their gear, arrest them, and fine them $2000.

On this fateful day in evolutionary history, some activists arranged a parachuting demonstration to showcase the safety of BASE-jumping. A group of five climbed 3200-foot El Capitan Peak, while hundreds of people watched from below.

One by one, the parachutists jumped over the edge, pulled their ripcord, and floated safely to the valley floor. Until our candidate, a grandmother, an experienced skydiver with a borrowed parachute that she failed to examine, gave an astounding demonstration of the dangers inherent in sky diving. She leapt off the cliff and plummeted directly into the ground without deploying her parachute. Her death was captured on film by her traumatized husband.

Adventure Athletes had arranged the jumps with grudging cooperation from park officials, who were concerned for the safety of visitors in the vicinity of the drop zone. The protesters agreed to be arrested and fined after the jump, and have their equipment confiscated.

The deceased, a skydiver prominent in the extreme-sports community with numerous jumps under her belt, had been loath to part with her valuable equipment. She borrowed an inexpensive parachute with a ripcord on the leg, rather than the back, and because she didn't give the parachute a basic safety check, was unable to find the cord in mid-air. Placing financial considerations above safety concerns cost her life when she landed on a huge pile of talus at El Capitan's base.

BASE jumping (building, antenna, span, earth) is technically difficult because the jump-off point is close to the ground and is performed in tighter spaces. Six jumpers have died in Yosemite, including a parachutist who drowned in the Merced River on June 9th while eluding park rangers.

Her husband vows to continue the protest against the BASE-jumping ban, thus qualifying for an At-Risk Survivor. © 1994 - 2004

Submitted by: Dan Farkas, Paul Moraga, Mike, Steve Myers, Steven Boswell

Reference: San Jose Mercury News, Marianne Costantinou and Gregory Lewis of the San Francisco Examiner, New York Times, Associated Press

The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook
How to survive if your parachute fails to open: A tiny percentage of high-altitude fall victims somehow survive. But don't count on it. You must signal a companion whose chute has not opened. When he gets to you, hook your arms into his chest strap and grab hold of your own straps. When the chute opens it will probably dislocate or break your arms. Your new best friend must hold onto you with one arm and steer his canopy down with the other."

"Hopefully you'll never need to know how
to build a fire without matches, perform a tracheotomy
or treat a bullet wound. But you never know."
--Sunny Delaney "


Michael Hoffman objects, "I have enjoyed reading the Darwin Awards over the years, but I am surprised to see you slipping on the facts. First, the whole protest was not just to support BASE Jumping in Yosemite, but also a memorial for the skydiver who drowned earlier that year. Second, the side mention of rip cords is true. Her chute just never unravelled."

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