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Parachute jumper rescued from tree, arrested after Foresthill Bridge leap

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A BASE jumper found himself suspended 60 feet in the air Thursday dangling from a tree limb in a leap-gone-wrong from the 730-foot-high Foresthill Bridge. Nicholos Frey, 34, of Olympic Valley not only spent more than four hours hovering over the American River canyon's east slope but was arrested after a daring Placer County Sheriff's Office rescue. Supervising Ranger Scott Liske of the Auburn State Recreation Area said Frey told rescuers that he had jumped from the span's south guardrail at 10:48 p.m. Wednesday. Frey, who had experience as a BASE jumper but not off the Foresthill Bridge, said he didn't see a pine tree when he tried to land in the dark. A branch of the tree, leaning toward the river, snagged Frey's chute, leaving him hanging in the air. Frey phoned 9-1-1 about 90 minutes after getting caught on the branch. A search team was able to reach him at 12:40 a.m. Liske said the sheriff's Falcon 30 piloted by Sgt. Van Bogardus was dispatched to attempt a difficult rescue. There were concerns about the high-velocity rotor-wash from the chopper blowing the chute off the branch or movement snapping the limb, he said. A deputy dropped on a line to Frey. While the rescue was further complicated when the chute wrapped around him, the deputy was able to secure Frey to the line and cut the chute cords. Frey was calm and cooperative while the two were moved to the ground below, Liske said. "They did an excellent job with a very technical night rescue," Liske said. Frey is being charged with a State Parks code "unsafe activity" violation. Liske said his office will also be asking the court to have Frey pay restitution to the Sheriff's Office for all charges related to the helicopter's use during the rescue. Liske said the bridge - the highest in California and fourth highest in the U.S. - has been a magnet over its 38-year history for BASE jumpers despite the dangers and the fact it's illegal. BASE jumpers - unlike regular parachute jumpers - mainly leap from bridges, structures and cliffs. BASE jumping is outlawed off the bridge except when a permit has been obtained for filmmaking purposes. Over the years, several productions have utilized the span - which is currently being repainted and stabilized to withstand earthquake tremors.