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Argon Air, Helipad Inspectors

Bill Ding and Cliff Leaper, at your service.
Written by Moe Viletto

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Originally printed in issue #40 (February 2013) of Blue Skies Magazine.
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This is a true story. No embellishing was required. The names have been changed to protect the not so innocent.

Having a serious addiction to jumping buildings that were under construction for 3 to 5 nights a week over a 3-year span—with little hassle from the enemy—we needed to find a way to top out on some of the big monsters we never got the chance to jump. So we asked ourselves,”What do all these buildings have in common?” The answer? A helicopter pad on the roof!

After browsing through a commercial uniform catalog I found some work shirts and hats and had a custom logo of a wind sock embroidered on them. We would be ARGON AIR ,helipad inspectors! We also had our names sewn on. My name was Bill. Last name Ding. My ol’ jumpin’ buddy Stretch’s name was Cliff. Last name Leaper. We purchased two $15 Wal-Mart tool boxes to stash our gear in during entry. We threw in some replacement lights, a wind sock, a roll of yellow caution tape, a can of paint and a brush, and various old disposable tools should someone want to have a look-see . We may need to actually act like we are doing some work in case there is activity on the roof.

Choosing a building was easy. We eyed up this 600-plus footer, sided with a most beautiful rose colored marble. But its finest attribute was the knife blade edge. The best jumpable corner had a 60-degree point, straight down with no obstructions…until you hit the four-lane street below. In freefall, it would seem like you were plummeting through the city with nothing around you, as a solid exit would leave the knife blade edge behind and out of view. We would jump on a Saturday afternoon when the city wasn’t so busy. Lance, an up and coming BASE student of mine, would have his brown van waiting at the intersection where we planned on landing for a quick getaway. We could leave the scene five different ways depending where the enemy might be. Our cameraman Johan would film, remove his disguise, and then slip back down the stairwell, hopefully unseen.

Saturday’s weather brought a high-pressure system that assured us a no-wind jump around high noon. The city was pretty quiet. We went into the cafeteria on the bottom floor and had brunch, joking how it might be our last meal. Or how we didn’t want to bounce on an empty stomach. Bellies full, we walked through the lobby and headed to the already open elevator that was being attended to by a sweet little lady with a friendly smile. We stepped into the elevator and, tipping my hat, I said, “Argon Air helipad inspectors. To the roof please.” Without hesitation she hit the “heaven button” and up we went. I swear I heard angels.

Off the elevator and down a hallway we found the roof access door. No cameras and no alarms that we could see. We opened the door to find the perfect day. No wind and light traffic. We got ready quickly in case we set off a silent alarm. A peek over the edge to see Lance leaning against the van at the intersection let us know he was ready.

Stretch went first and did a short delay with a good opening. The problem for me now was that Stretch was in my freefall space, way too high and spiraling down. Traffic and pedestrians were now aware and started hootin’ and hollerin’. I needed to get out of Dodge, knowing it wouldn’t be long before the Mounties arrived. I stepped up to the edge looking down at my feet and the knife edge. Simply beautiful. Damn I love this shit. As much as I enjoy hanging out right before committing I knew it was time to go. A good launch and a deep 4-second delay spanked me open almost next to Stretch who was setting up for landing. A white van stopped in the middle of the intersection and gave me some landing space. I nodded a thank you as I flared to a no-step landing. Stretch and I hopped in the Lancemobile and drove away with no enemy in sight. We did it! We pulled it off…This time…

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Three weeks later my friend Wreck, whom I taught to BASE jump over the telephone and halfway across the country, came out for a visit to try and get a shot at a building jump. Wreck was a pretty experienced BASE jumper by that time and had jumped some very unusual objects, but never a building. Taz, another BASE buddy, was to join us. We would be putting the assault on a building under construction. We would dress as construction workers with denim jeans, plaid work shirts and yellow hard hats. Mine was white—somebody had to be the foreman. Our gear was stashed in those handy disposable Wal-Mart tool boxes and we brought along the Argon Air uniforms as well.

We planned on entering the building at lunchtime while the construction workers were on break, then we would find a place to hide and jump late that evening. As we drove nearer to the big city and those glorious monoliths started to appear, I was tellin’ Taz and Wreck about Stretch and me doing the knife blade. Taz was nearly drooling as we passed by it. “Man,” he said, “that’s a sweet lookin’ jump.” There is something special about jumping a finished building. It’s so clean. Wreck chimed in with, “Yea that would be an awesome first building jump.” Cockily I remarked, “We can do it guys. All we gotta do is switch over to the Argon Air garb and waltz in.” It didn’t take much convincing as Taz pulled into a lot and we changed disguises. We had no getaway driver so we just left Taz’s car at the intersection.

We entered the lobby and just like before, our smiling elevator operator was waiting to take us to heaven. As the doors closed she asked where we were going and I responded like before. “Argon Air helipad inspectors. To the roof please.” She responded with, “Did you gentlemen check in at the front desk?” I said no and asked if there was a problem. She was already hitting the down button and said, “You guys are going to have to get passes. We had someone parachute off our building a few weeks ago.” I said, “That’s crazy. Parachutes won’t work that low will they?” “I don’t know, “she replied. “But you will have to check in at the front desk.”

The elevator door opened, the three of us walked toward the front desk, and at the last second I turned and walked straight out of the building. Taz and Wreck approached the desk and started to confer with the security guard. I just stood outside and watched. Next thing you know, Taz with his Cheshire grin is waving me back into the building. They bullshitted their way back in! I reentered and the three stooges got back on the elevator. Our friendly gal was smiling way way too much as she hit the up button. I kept getting glances from my mates saying, “We got this. We are in. This is gonna be awesome.”

Suddenly the elevator stopped, the doors opened, and there stood the cops. Two of them, neither of whom had we encountered before. They led us into a room with the building manager. The first question was, “Who has the white van?” They must have thought the guy in the white van who gave me some landing space when Stretch and I jumped a few weeks earlier was part of our crew. “No one here has a white van,” I responded.

One of the cops said, “We want permission to see what’s inside your tool boxes.” I said, “You do not have permission to enter our tool boxes.” The other cop replied to his partner, “Did he say there was a gun in there?” And the first cop said, “I think that’s what he said.” He moved forward and opened one of the tool boxes, revealing a rig. “OK guys, let’s go,” he said, opening the door and leading us back into the elevator. Once in, I nudged the manager with my elbow, grinned and pointed. “Up?” “No no…Down…You guys are goin’ to jail .”

Once we were in the cops’ car they loosened up a bit. They were very well aware of BASE in the city and we told them a few good stories that kept them laughing. This jovial attitude carried over all the way to the glass house where we were put in a cell and had pizza and good times with the local police.

After lunch we were put on a prison bus with a bunch of scary dudes and carted off to the county jail where we ended up in a holding room with about 30 black guys. Most of these guys were playing the system for three hots and a cot—free food and a place to sleep. The guard popped his head in the door and started to take a head count for lunch. As he was pointing and counting I started to rattle off random numbers aloud, messing with his count. When he lost track he looked straight at me and said to everyone, “If you guys don’t get lunch today, it’s their fault,” pointing to us three little white boys, and he closed the door.

Looking around the room, I saw 30 sets of big white eyes glaring at us. Some big giant of a dude stood up and threatened, “We better get our lunch. What are you guys in here for?” I said we got busted trying to parachute off the bank building. “The bank buildin’? Was you robbin’ the bank?” he asked. “No, we were doing it for fun.” “Fo’ fun?” he questioned surprisingly. Glancing around to the other cell mates he said, “These guys are badass, man.” And suddenly we were cool.

But this was no fun like the glass house. This was the real deal jail where the wackos ask you for a cigarette and you reply with, “Sorry, I don’t smoke.” And they ask you again in two minutes…And again. The real deal where these guys just rocked back and forth muttering nothings.

A guard brought us bagged lunches. Before he shut the door he said, “No trading or sharing.” No sooner did the door close than one of the inmates came around to collect up all the apples so he could mash them up to ferment into cider. Hopefully we wouldn’t be in long enough to try it out.

Next we were given the blaze Orange County jail coveralls to change into. We went through three separate pat downs. All of our personal items were logged and put away except for $10. At the time I wondered why we could have $10 as there was nothing to buy in jail. Or was there?

As we were all up against the wall for the pat down we were told to put our 10 bucks on the bench to our right. When the dude to Wreck’s right was done getting his pat down he smiled and took Wreck’s 10 and put it in his pocket. No sooner did Wreck respond with “HEY!” I stifled him saying not to worry about it. We don’t need money in here and it’s only 10 bucks. The guards were totally aware of this as they just stood back grinning. After two more pat downs they put us in the slammer. Now I know what the 10 bucks was all about. These guys had access to just about anything you wanted. Food, drugs, books and just about anything you could get on the outside. You name it. Planned corruption.

Wreck stayed awake all night, face up, seeing that he was the pretty boy of the bunch. We saw a judge the next morning and paid a $220 fine for reckless endangerment. I don’t get it. I wasn’t endangering anyone but myself. As we were gathering up our belongings our friend Lance showed up with a wad of cash. He couldn’t get a hold of us for two days so he took a wild guess that we were in the pokie and he came to bail us out.

Well, my good buddy Wreck has yet to jump a building and this all happened in 1992. But he is not chasing a BASE number. He has made some very special one-time only jumps to make up for it … On second thought, maybe it’s time to pull out the uniforms and go do a little Argon Air, helipad inspectors!

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