SAN FRANCISCO — A software engineer died over the weekend after jumping off a popular mountaintop in Northern California’s scenic wine country wearing a “speed parachute” and veering into a rock formation, authorities said on Monday.
Walden Grindle, 35, survived the impact of colliding with a cliff off of Mt. Saint Helena, a 4,340-foot peak in Napa County, long enough to make a cell phone call and activate an emergency response tracker before succumbing to his injuries, Napa County Sheriff’s Captain Leroy Anderson said.
Grindle, an electronic mapping engineer for a vineyard management company, launched himself early Sunday afternoon from the top of the mountain using a “speed parachute” that opens and catches wind as the parachuter runs before leaving the ground, unlike a standard parachute that deploys while the person is falling, Anderson said.
Grindle glided west around the edge of the mountain before crashing into a protruding rock formation, Anderson said.
A sheriff’s helicopter found Grindle within about an hour of being notified, but he had already died, Anderson said, adding that there was no indication of equipment failure.
“He probably just misjudged how close he was to the rock formation,” Anderson said. “That’s part of what the thrill is — to see how close you can get to things, and he just got a little too close.”
Grindle, who was once arrested for parachuting from El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, was experienced with BASE jumping, a form of skydiving where a person free-falls off a fixed surface before activating a parachute, Anderson said.
The term BASE stands for buildings, antennas, (bridge) spans and earth (or cliffs and caves).
A YouTube video, posted in 2009, shows Grindle doing a back flip off of a bridge in Idaho, which appears to be a few hundred feet high, before opening his parachute and gliding to safety below.
Grindle’s death comes less than two months after a skydiving instructor was killed, and his student seriously injured, from crashing in the woods in southern Mississippi during a group skydiving mission.
According to the United States Parachute Association, which issues skydiving licenses and publishes training manuals on the extreme sport, 19 fatal skydiving accidents were reported in the United States out of about 3.1 million jumps in 2012.