$2,000 pricetag for helicopter rescue from tree at Foresthill Bridge

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A Foresthill Bridge parachute jump gone wrong and the subsequent helicopter rescue from a tree branch 60 feet above the ground last Thursday could cost an Olympic Valley man $2,000. That’s the amount of money the Placer County Sheriff’s Office estimates it cost for helicopter , pilot and rescuer time during a daring, early-morning effort to save the life of the BASE jumper as he dangled precariously by his chute from a pine branch. Lt. Mark Reed said Wednesday that the Sheriff’s Office will not be billing 34-year-old Nicholos Frey directly because it will be sorted out in court. Frey was plucked from the tree by limb by Deputy Josh Shelton, who was lowered on a rope-line from the sheriff’s Falcon 30 helicopter piloted by Sgt. Van Bogardus. Working with the possibility of the high-velocity rotor-wash from the chopper blowing the chute off the branch, Shelton secured Frey to the line, cut the chute away and was lowered to the canyon below. Frey had jumped from the bridge shortly before 11 p.m. Oct. 12, rescuers located him at about before 1 a.m. and the helicopter rescue was completed 3 a.m. The jumper was arrested and cited under the State Parks code with an “unsafe activity “ violation. The bridge is owned by Placer County but the area below is federal land patrolled by State Parks and part of the Auburn State Recreation Area. Supervising Ranger Scott Liske said he’s asking the court to have Frey pay restitution to the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office has the ability to charge people it rescues but state law allows the bill to go out only when rescued parties live outside the county. Olympic Valley, where Frey is listed as residing, is part of Placer County. Some online comments on the website showed concern about the risks involved and favored charging Frey for the rescue. “They should have left him hanging there for a week before a rescue was attempted,” glennmeadownvista wrote. “And he should be required to pay the rescue bill.” “Why risk everyone else’s lives and spend unnecessary money? Let him figure it out on his own.,” stated doodle826. The 38-year-old Foresthill Bridge – highest in California and fourth highest in the nation – has been a lure for BASE jumpers for decades. Liske said that the Parks Department cited another jumper in September for parachuting off the 730-foot-high span. With a seismic retrofit and repainting project now taking place on the bridge, Liske said rangers have another tool at their disposal in preventing jumps. “BASE” stands for jumps off bridges, antennae and structures and earthbound objects such as cliffs. “With the construction going on at the bridge and the presence of a security guard, we’re getting better, quicker reports,” Liske said. BASE jumping is outlawed off the bridge except when a permit has been obtained for filmmaking purposes. Some would like to see relaxation of the permit regulations to allow BASE jumpers more access to a world-class leap. “How about we make BASE jumpers sign a bulletproof release and charge them to jump in the light of day,” stated DRG428 in last week’s comments online about the rescue. “I’m betting it would be a moneymaker.”