There are plenty of ways to jump off a building. But for Andrew Rossig, there was only one way to do it from the top of One World Trade Center. Backflip.
It was 3AM on September 30, 2013. Andrew, a wiry 33-year-old carpenter with dark curly hair, puffed a Camel as he gazed 105 storeys down from the roof. Lower Manhattan sparkled in a blanket of darkness far below.
“Thank the f—king dear Lord that we made it here this far,” he told the two guys standing beside him. “He’s going to watch out for us. He likes drunks and stupid people.”
Everything felt so peaceful up there, the air quiet and cool. As he leaned over the edge, Andrew could see that the West Side Highway barely had any cars. The Hudson River, to the left, flowed in a long ribbon of black. The tip of the Empire State Building glowed uptown. Andrew had waited a lifetime for this moment, and now all he had to do was jump.
He and his buddies – 32-year-old ironworker Jimmy Brady and 27-year-old skydiving instructor Marko Markovich – are BASE jumpers. Nicknamed for the four types of platform from which to hurl oneself – building, antenna, span, and Earth – the sport is known as the world’s deadliest for a reason. Adventure doesn’t get more extreme than this. Compared to skydiving, BASE jumping gives you way less time to properly deploy a parachute, and there’s also the risk of smashing against the object you’re jumping from on the way down. No wonder the sport has its own online database of fatalities and is banned in most parks and cities.
“Certain people are designed in certain ways,” says BASE-jumping legend Jeb Corliss, “and there’s a small group of people who just want to fly.”
Andrew, Jimmy, and Marko thrived in this outlaw underworld. They had logged more than 1,000 jumps among them. But on this autumn night, they had chosen the riskiest BASE of all, and not just because it was 541m high. They were about to plunge from the Freedom Tower – not yet completed but standing in the shadow of the two buildings destroyed, and 2,753 lives lost, on 9/11 – a structure Jimmy himself had been working on for the past decade and had always imagined jumping off.
“It was a dream from day one,” he says.
Now the three friends had to survive not only the fall but also the punishment potentially to follow for having snuck into the biggest terrorist target in America. But at the moment, Andrew, who spent his days building movie sets in Manhattan, wasn’t worried about any of that. He was finally living his ultimate fantasy.
The time had come to begin the countdown: “Three, two, one.” And then he flew backward into the night.
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