Parachutist Vows To Jump Again -- `I Feel Lucky, Very Lucky,' She Says

Jessica Kluetmeier plans to resume base jumping as soon as she has healed from her well-publicized plunge from the Space Needle.

But her next jump will be over water - "for my nerves," she said last night from her hospital bed at Harborview Medical Center, where she was being treated for a fractured vertebra in her lower back.

Despite her injury, Kluetmeier seemed in good spirits during an impromptu news conference in her hospital room. Doctors expect a full recovery.

"I feel lucky, very lucky," she said.

Kluetmeier, 29, of New York City, was one of four parachutists who jumped from the Space Needle yesterday morning as part of a television-show stunt. Kluetmeier was injured on her second jump from the Needle's 520-foot-high observation deck.

The four jumpers are members of the World BASE (building, antenna, span and earth) Association. Base jumpers use smaller, faster-opening parachutes than skydivers to jump off natural and man-made structures.

Base jumping is generally viewed as a more difficult and dangerous sport than skydiving. But base jumpers contend that those with proper training, equipment and preparation can manage the risk.

The Space Needle jumps, which were taped for a segment on the television-tabloid show "American Journal," were a promotion for the association and the growing sport.

"I hate that this was so public," Kluetmeier said. ". . . We're fighting very hard as base jumpers to get sites legalized, and we're emphasizing safety. I wouldn't want my getting injured to reflect on anybody else."

About 100 spectators watched as Kluetmeier jumped and opened her chute, only to have a steering line apparently get tangled in the chute, hindering its opening.

Kluetmeier said last night the line might have tangled with the chute for several reasons, possibly because the line moved inside the pack or because wind blew the line over the chute.

Falling at nearly 65 mph, she first tried to release the steering line. When that failed, she managed to successfully pull the opposite line to slow her descent.

She hit the grass, only several feet away from pavement.

"I was grateful to hit soft ground," she said. ". . . Right before I hit, I thought I was going to hit pavement. I had some control - but not total."

Kluetmeier will wear a back brace for about two months and will see at that point if surgery might be required, she said.

"American Journal" led its broadcast last night with the jumps. Had the accident not happened, said Charles Lachman, co-executive producer, the story likely would have aired early in the show but not necessarily first.

"We had the idea of getting some base jumpers to jump off a famous landmark somewhere in the country, and our producers started making calls and reached out to the Space Needle folks," he said.

The jumpers were not compensated by the show, although it did pay the expenses of those from out of town.

Space Needle officials consulted for weeks with the Seattle Police and Fire departments, city officials and Seattle Center management to make sure that adequate safety and security measures would be taken for the event, said Lynn Brackpool, marketing manager for the Space Needle.

The four parachutists had completed a combined 5,000 skydiving and base jumps without incident, Brackpool said. Kluetmeier has skydived 1,200 times and base jumped 50 times.

This was the first time since the Space Needle was built in 1962 that officials have authorized a parachute jump. Two people jumped illegally in 1975 and were not injured.

Last year, a man suffered a fractured skull, cuts and bruises when he illegally parachuted off the 954-foot Columbia Seafirst Center.

But legal or not, some say base jumping is too dangerous.

"We do not condone base jumping," said Kevin Crosby, safety and training adviser at the Snohomish Parachute Center, which gives skydiving instruction and runs a skydiving drop zone. "It's dangerous, primarily because they're exiting far too close to the ground."

The United States Parachute Association, which has about 32,000 members, has safety regulations, such as a minimum exit altitude of 2,800 feet for skydiving.

"Base jumping is dangerous," said Andy Calistrat, 30, president of the World BASE Association and one of the four Space Needle jumpers yesterday. "That's why no one should get into it without proper training, preparation and equipment."

"It's a difficult sport," said Steve Mulholland, 35, a Seattle resident who also jumped from the Space Needle yesterday. "It's unfortunate that this incident happened on such public display, but it's no different than any Indy car race or hydroplane race.

"Any athletic endeavor will have some risk involved."

Information from Seattle Times staff reporter Chuck Taylor is included in this report.