LIFESTYLE

Base Jumpers Break Their Backs In 500ft Fall, Make Full Recovery And Start Jumping Again

14/04/2015 16:05 BST | Updated 14/04/2015 16:59 BST

Two base-jumpers who broke their backs after a horrific 500ft fall have made a remarkable recovery - and started jumping again.

Austin Carey, 23, and Jay Rawe, 25, plummeted onto a riverbank when their parachutes tangled at the Perrine Bridge, Idaho.

They had been attempting a risky double jump when Jay slipped at the last moment and landed on his friend.

base jumpers

Stunned spectators - who recorded the near-fatal fall - could only gasp in horror as they spiralled onto the rocks below.

Both suffered multiple injuries including fractures to the spine - and Austin was told he might not walk again.

But after almost a year of intensive recovery, both men have returned to the sport they love.

And last month - almost a year to the day - Austin retraced his steps by successfully base jumping from the Perrine Bridge.

He said: "It was such an amazing feeling to be back there after everything I had been through and all the work I have put into making my dream of jumping again a reality.

"Because of what happened to Jay and me I've accepted death as a possibility - but I can't dream of a life without doing what I love."

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Base Jumpers Break Backs In 500ft Fall

Austin, from Fort Wayne, Indiana, has no memory of the crushing fall on March 23 last year, but Jay remembers it clearly.

He said: "I remember standing on Austin's shoulders and getting ready while our friends held him there.

"Austin gave the 3-2-1 countdown and I remember falling backwards and trying to jump onto the handrail, missing it, hitting the diving board and starting to flip.

"I grabbed his pilot chute and tried to unwrap his bridle from around my leg. I then landed in his parachute, looked up and saw the sky above me and his canopy flapping around.

"The sound was significantly different from any other base jump and I remember thinking how I needed to get out of that position.

"I kicked my feet over my head, fell out, and remember spinning at the ground as it got closer and knowing that we were gonna hit.

"Next thing I remember is waking up and sitting upright to catch the breath that had been knocked out of me. There were people all around, calling the emergency services, making sure we were staying still.

"Next we were at the hospital and they put me down for surgery and then I woke up with friends in the room.

"Seeing it on film the first few times made my stomach drop out like I was riding a roller-coaster."

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Jay suffered a burst fracture of the L1 vertebrae, damage to the T12 and L3 and a sprained right ankle in which the ligament was completely 'torn off the bone'.

Austin's were even more serious. His injuries included a burst fracture of the L1 vertebrae, an incomplete spinal cord injury and his T12 vertebrae was almost split in half.

The pair, who had done almost 500 base-jumps between them, underwent emergency 10-hour surgeries which included Austin having a thumbnail-sized piece of bone remove from his spinal cord and Jay having his T12 and L3 vertebrae fused with titanium.

The road to recovery was even more painful - especially for Austin.

While Jay, from Utah, battled back onto his feet within a few weeks Austin faced the prospect of never walking again.

He spent three months in a back brace and seven months in a wheelchair, taking every opportunity to workout in his high-school swimming pool to strengthen his body.

He said: "The recovery process was insane. At first I could barely get out of bed because of the pain. The whole time I would feel severe nerve pain that would make me scream in agony for hours. It felt as though someone was holding a taser to my legs."

Austin was treated at the Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center Hospital, Idaho and Jay at St. Luke's Magic Valley Medical Center, Twin Falls and Tampa General Hospital, Florida.

With the support of clinicians, physical therapists and their family and friends, they have made dramatic recoveries and returned to the sport that nearly claimed their lives.

But it has led to a few raised eyebrows.

For Austin, whose father died in a motorbike accident when he was two-weeks-old, his mother is his biggest concern.

"She is the strongest, most giving person I will ever meet," said the fitness coach, who plans to move into wing-suit base jumping.

"If something happened to me again I can't imagine what she would go through. But she knows how much this means to me and how much joy it gives me."

Jay, who began base jumping again in October 2014 at Fayetteville, West Virginia, also has no plans to pack up his parachute.

He said: "Giving it up never really seemed like an option to me.

"My family would like me to stop out of the fear that I will injure myself again but life is too short to do the things that I love."