The Pick Up Guys
The BASE Jumpers at Bridge Day, aim for the bulls eye. A big vinyl mat, in the LZ (that's jumper speak for Landing Zone). Fact is, few actually hit the bulls eye, but many land in the designated area of the beach. Some softer than others.
However, for one reason or another, be it crossed-lines, late deployment or slow chute inflation, some don't quite make it to the designated area. A few actually choose to land in the water, as it is a much softer landing than the boulder strewn beach.
Trees are some jumpers kryptonite. For others the river.
When jumpers land in the water, the "Pick-Up Guys" jump into action.
A team comprised of a crew of experienced rescue personnel. All have backgrounds deeply connected to river rescue, swift water rescue and ski patrol. They are knowledgeable, skilled and somewhat quirky... well let's just say "they dance to the beat of a different drummer". (We're lookin' at you Mike!)
Tom Dragan has been a part of the water rescue team for almost 30 years. He has recruited a team that he (and the jumpers) can trust and rely on, including family. They refer to wing-suit jumpers as "flying squirrels", and speak a hand-language with one another that few can understand. They get the job done, and done right.
When they spot a jumper in trouble, and they can generally tell just body their body language during descent, you can hear their jet boat engines roar to life.
Scattered among 4 boats, they have a systematic way of covering the river from the upstream rapid (Fayette Station) to the downstream rapid (Flea Flicker) below the New River Gorge Bridge. As one plucks a jumper, they rotate from the areas they consider most difficult to pull the jumpers.
Watching them in action is as interesting as watching the chutes deploy.
For one day a year, they each share an office which has no walls and a helluva view...not to mention plenty of laughs and personality.
While often un-noticed by the spectators, the "Pick Up Guys" are an important part of the day. Ask any jumper that has hit the water and we're pretty sure they will agree.