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Free Falls : To Show Their Sport Is Safe, Bungee Entrepreneurs Harness the Media

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ryan Magnussen feels the image of bungee jumping has taken a fall from grace, so he and other devotees belonging to a national association of bungee jumpers set out Thursday to battle the bad publicity.

During a demonstration in a remote area of the Lancaster high desert, they claimed that leaping from a plane, crane or balloon with only an elastic cord between them and death is not insane, but safe and fun.

Magnussen, 20, acknowledged that most people can think of no more terrifying stunt than a bungee plunge. That fear was definitely heightened in October after a California jumper was killed in the first reported U.S. bungee fatality.

“But it really is a safe, fun sport if the proper procedures are followed,” said Magnussen, who is president of a company that offers jumps off balloons and cranes for about $100. “The public needs to be educated.”

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In a dramatic effort to prove their point, Magnussen and his brother, Bo, 25, who are members of the North American Bungee Assn., offered free bungee jumps to members of the media. USC journalism student Arwen Adams and “KABC Eyewitness News” soundman Hiro Kariya took the plunge.

“Am I stupid or what?” Adams, 20, asked as she stood 210 feet in the air on a small step on the outside of the basket of a hot-air balloon. One end of a 70-foot bungee cord was clasped to a body harness she wore; the other end was secured to the basket.

From the ground, organizers counted backward to zero, at which point Adams was supposed to jump. Instead, she froze for a few seconds, then regained her confidence and arched backward into space.

At 70 feet the cord began stretching, gently slowing her fall and finally stopping her after another 70 feet. She bounced several times like a yo-yo before coming to rest and being lowered to Earth.

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“That was fun,” she said. “Not scary at all.”

Kariya, 55, seemed breathless after his novice dive: “It’s an indescribable feeling. It’s great. Oh boy!”

Magnussen said a significant number of the 120 commercial operators throughout the country do not follow strict guidelines to ensure the safety of jumpers. He said thrill-seekers should make sure that operators are professional and have exact information about the jumping equipment and how much weight it will hold.

He said plungers should beware of operators offering illegal jumps off bridges or public buildings. He added that jumps with a chest and waist harness are safer and offer more mobility than jumps in which only ankle-hold elastic cords are used.

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The Magnussens said human error was responsible for the death of Hal Irish, a 29-year-old bungee instructor who was killed Oct. 27 near Perris, southeast of Riverside, when a knot securing his cord came unfastened during a jump from a hot-air balloon. Several people in other countries have also been killed in bungee jumps.

Bo Magnussen said his Lancaster company, Vertical Addictions, uses buckles rather than knots to secure cords.

Irish’s death prompted Cal/OSHA, the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, to regulate bungee jumping, saying the sport is similar to an amusement ride and therefore subject to the same regulations as portable rides. The Magnussens’ company is seeking a permit.


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