Trellick Tower, in West London, is one of the tallest residential housing blocks in the UK. It is 31 stories high, and has 217 flats, some on two levels. It is a local landmark, a listed building, and is visible from great distances across London. Love it or hate it, this concrete monolith cannot fail to inspire opinion, one way, or another. As it was at the end of a local street market, less than a mile from the ambulance station where I was based, it was a regular venue for us to attend, and the large number of residents generated many calls to the emergency services. However, on this particular occasion, it was not a resident that we were called to.
Almost 30 years ago, I had never heard of ‘base jumping’, and I was not alone. Security in housing developments was almost unknown as well, and the entry buzzers and concierges of modern day Trellick Tower were not present then. So, it had proved relatively simple for two determined men to gain access to this high block of flats, and to get from the top floor out onto the roof. The lift shaft is separated from the building, and joined to it by a series of bridges, leading across the gap, to the flats in the main building; this leaves a substantial distance between the two parts of the structure.
The first call for an ambulance referred to a ‘male fallen’, with the address given as ‘outside Trellick Tower’. When you get this report, it is easy to imagine that someone may have fallen from the building, whether intentionally, or otherwise. This is rarely the case, as most fallers outside the location will turn out to be elderly people, or drunks. On arrival, we saw a small crowd, indicating that we should go onto the grassed area to one side of the building; the Police also arrived, and we went across to the area pointed out to us.
On first sight, it seemed that a parachute was billowing on the ground. As we had all seen parachutes on TV, it was immediately obvious what it was. Once we got closer, it was apparent that there was someone underneath the slowly collapsing canopy of silk, and I went with my colleague to investigate. There was the body of an adult male, dressed in a one-piece suit, and wearing a stylised crash helmet. His limbs were arranged in an unorthodox fashion, one leg pointing upwards, alongside his body; both arms, broken and dislocated, were tight behind his back. The other leg was at right angles to his hip, and his face was almost pointing backwards, indicative of a broken neck.
There was nothing to be done for him. Bystanders reported seeing him jump from the edge of the roof, and all stated that he was accompanied by another male, in similar garb. The parachute had left the backpack and unfurled behind him, but had failed to deploy properly, leaving him to fall more than 300 feet onto the grass below. As we began to arrange the body, prior to removal to the ambulance, and eventual trip to the mortuary after death was pronounced at the local hospital, it was obvious that almost every bone in his body was either broken or dislocated, or both. It was a similar experience to picking up a canvas bag full of tools, and feeling them move around in your arms.
His attempt to parachute from this iconic building had failed, as he had jumped into the space between the two parts, and the air currents there had collapsed the parachute, making it fail to open fully. I never found out what happened to his co-jumper, and can only presume that he landed properly, and made off.
At the time, I thought it was a really unusual call, and the first time that I had ever known of anyone to try this from a building in Central London. It goes on all the time now, and they call it Base Jumping. He didn’t live to see it.