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A Wedding, Then An 876-Foot Leap

October 21, 1990

FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. (AP) _ About 300 daredevil jumpers bounded, flipped and somersaulted off the New River Gorge Bridge on Saturday, falling 876 feet to the river below. One bridegroom also took the leap.

Three parachutists suffered leg injuries and a fourth hit his head off a rock on the riverbank when his parachute snagged on a tree branch, officials said. Three of them were treated at a hospital and later released, and the fourth did not go to a hospital.

High water levels in the New River caused National Park officials to limit jumpers to one leap at a time at least one minute apart from the second tallest bridge in North America.

The annual Bridge Day event routinely attracts up to 300 parachutists, many of whom belong to the U.S. BASE Association. BASE stands for building, antenna, span and earth. It takes about eight seconds to fall from the bridge to the New River below, and jumpers can reach speeds of 60 mph before landing.

Saturday’s highlight, however, was the unrehearsed marriage of Tom King and Vivian Taylor, a Memphis, Tenn., couple, followed by the groom’s leap from the bridge.

The two, in traditional wedding dress, were married on top of a small, portable staircase that was used by jumpers as an approach ramp to the side of the bridge. About 75 invited guests and thousands of Bridge Day spectators watched, screaming and clapping throughout the 15-minute ceremony.

Shortly after the ceremony, two wedding guests, two groomsmen and King, still wearing his tuxedo, leaped from the bridge.

King and one of his groomsmen, Andy Calistrat, jumped at the same time, an exception to the day’s rule of one jumper at a time. King trailed behind him a blue banner with yellow streamers that read, ″Just married, Tom and Vivian, Bridge Day 1990.″

King, who had to wait for an hour after the ceremony to jump, said, ″I just want it to be over.″

Skydivers said the bridge leap is more thrilling and frightening than parachuting from an airplane.

″Skydiving can get a bit vanilla after a while, and this can put more pizazz into it,″ said Rob Stanley, a 26-year-old carpenter from Toronto, Canada.

Those who came solely for the privilege of jumping were not disappointed, even though National Park Service Ranger Jodi Schrader said the water was 10 feet higher than the normal level.

Last year, parachutists were prohibited from taking the plunge because the river was running 11 feet above normal following heavy rains. About three dozen jumpers went off the bridge anyway, and a few were arrested.

Illegal jumps carry a penalty of up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Three people have been killed in leaps from the bridge, two during Bridge Day festivities. The last death was in 1987, when skydiver Steven Gyrsting of Paoli, Pa., was killed.

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