Sunday, September 03, 2000

Tower jumper hung up on sport

Ex-champ hit 29th-floor snag

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Dangling by his tangled parachute from the 29th floor of a downtown building is a rare position for Tim Lee “Skypunk” Werling II.

        The 29-year-old Norwood resident is a former world champion in the sport of Building Antenna Structure Earth cliff (BASE) jumping, and this was his third try at skydiving off the 570-foot Carew Tower in the last six years.

        But late Friday night, there Mr. Werling was, snagged on the nearby Omni Netherland Plaza hotel building soon after his jump from the 49th floor of Cincinnati's tallest building.

Werling was pulled in the window behind him after a safety rope was lowered.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
        He was able to scramble to a ledge, and was soon rescued by police through a nearby window. He was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and inducing panic and later released on $1,100 bond.

        It was the second time Mr. Werling was caught by authorities — he was arrested after a successful Carew Tower jump in August, 1995. He later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and paid a fine after promising never again to jump off a downtown Cincinnati building.

        “Hopefully the court has a short memory,” said local radio personality and lawyer Bill Cunningham, who represented Mr. Werling then but is not in this case.

        Mr. Cunningham said Mr. Werling had successfully jumped off the building in 1994 but avoided arrest by getting into a waiting car and driving off.

        “He's a good boy ... I guess he just needs the adrenaline rush,” his father Tim Werling, a West Chester real estate agent, said Saturday. “He's been doing this about 10 years. He's always liked the extreme, but he'd do anything for you.”

        The younger Mr. Werling did not return phone calls to his Norwood home Saturday. On his answering machine, he identifies himself only as “Skypunk” and signs off by saying “Blue skies!”

        His only comment Friday night when asked why he jumped off: “It's what I do.”

        After his 1995 arrest, he was quoted as saying he jumped because he “was just living life.”

        Mr. Werling finished third in a BASE competition — which tests opening and landing skill — in Utah in March, and won the annual Bridge Week contest outside Charleston, W.Va. last October.

        BASE jumpers hurl themselves off standing structures such as skyscrapers, bridges, or cliffs. Less than one percent of jumps are off buildings and the majority are off either bridges or cliffs, according to Mick Knutson, a BASE jumper and editor of the website which is devoted to the sport.

        Mr. Knutson said the sport has been around since 1980, with the last known fatality taking place in London in 1985.

        “Lee Werling has done hundreds of BASE jumps, and without knowing the specifics, if something went wrong and he only got hung up on a building and wasn't really injured, he did pretty good,” Mr. Knutson said from his home in London.

        Jumping from the height of the Carew Tower only allows 3-4 seconds to open a parachute and land safely, with 270 feet considered the lowest most jumpers will go, Mr. Knutson said.

        Witnesses saw another jumper parachute off the building without incident before Mr. Werling. No further arrests have been made.

        Most BASE jumpers undergo at least 200 traditional skydives out of an airplane, and then train for as long as a year before taking on a real BASE jump. The equipment costs $2,000 to start, and that doesn't include the expense of traveling to known BASE sites.

        “It takes a lot of experience to handle yourself,” said Mr. Knutson, also the president of the Cliff Jumping Association of America. “An inexperienced person panics, whereas a BASE jumper trains himself not to panic. Understanding how to control your own fears even though you're afraid is what the sport is all about.”


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