Moab resident Mario Richard died Monday, Aug. 18, while wingsuit flying in the Dolomites in Italy.
Italian news media reported that he hit a cliff wall moments after his wife Steph Davis made a successful jump.
Richard, 47, was jumping from a 3,300-foot peak in the Val di Fossa near Bolzano when he apparently failed to clear a rock by three meters, said Gino Comelli, of the Alpine rescue service in Val di Fassa who was one of the rescuers at the scene.
“There are two mountain walls connected by a rock. Richard arrived three meters too low, on this rock,” Comelli said.
Richard was jumping with a group of Italians and Canadians, wearing a webbed wingsuit designed to provide extra lift for flight. He had already done three successful jumps from the same peak the previous day, Comelli said.
Richard had skydived more than 7,000 times and BASE jumped an estimated 2,000 times before his death.
Richard and Davis owned and operated Moab BASE Adventures, which provided BASE guiding and rock climbing excursions in the Moab area. BASE is the acronym for “Buildings Aerials Spans and Earth”, as BASE jumpers leap from fixed objects and use a parachute to break their fall. Their company was the only outfitter to offer tandem cliff jumping to clients with no BASE jumping experience.
Richard’s passion for skydiving began in childhood when he made small parachutes for G.I. Joe action figures for competitions during lunch recess in elementary school. He began sky diving in 1988 and did his first BASE jump in 1991.
Increasingly, when diving solo in their free time, the Richard and Davis wore wingsuits, sometimes called squirrel suits, to extend their flights before deploying the parachute. The suits are webbed under the arms and between the legs to slow the fall and give more experienced users some ability to maneuver through the air before pulling the parachute.
Richard moved to Moab in 2007 where he met Davis, a professional rock climber.
Davis is the author of “High Infatuation: A Climber’s Guide to Love and Gravity” and “Learning to Fly”. In the memoir “Learning to Fly” she documents how she recovered from her divorce from professional rock climber Dean Potter by learning to skydive, B.A.S.E. jump, and fly by using a wingsuit. She also wrote about finding Richard who shared her passion for jumping.
In her memoir she described Richard as one of the most competent people she has ever met. She said that he “developed equipment and techniques, opened hundreds of new exit points, was constantly active in every form of jumping, and had never been hurt.”
Richard and Davis married in 2011, atop Parriott Mesa near Castle Valley north of Moab. They celebrated their union by running and leaping off the mesa and gliding to earth with parachutes.
“I was lucky to have found Mario to share my life. I trusted him completely. He showed me daily he was strong enough to fly with me in whatever direction I might go,” she wrote in the memoir. “Finding him was a small miracle, one I could never have imagined.”
Niccoli Iuul, a film producer from Los Angeles, said that he worked with Richard three weeks ago on a commercial that was filmed in Moab.
“My instant impression was one of total trust in this amazing man, firstly on the phone and then in person,” Iuul said. “His professionalism and manner were so reassuring to be around. I work with many new people every month, but there was something so special about him. His passion, knowledge and personality were those of a fantastic leader.”
Iuul said that he was filled with extreme excitement and exhilaration each time Richard jumped off the cliff during the shoot.
“In that moment I understood completely why he did what he did. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I got back,” Iuul said. “I think that we all wish to die doing what we love and having an amazing time getting there. I know that Mario is one of the very few people in the world who did both.”
Taylor Thompson, who worked at B.A.S.E. Adventures with Richards, said that he was always smiling.
“He was definitely a person with a vibrant personality and a zest for life,” Thompson said.
Thompson said that she felt privileged to work with Richard.
“He had such a high regard for safety and professionalism. He was beyond qualified, and if there was anyone I would’ve trusted to take me on a tandem B.A.S.E. jump it was Mario,” Thompson said. “He was the best of the best at what he did.”
Richard’s remains were being held in Italy, pending cremation and repatriation to the United States.
Richard is the second well-known jumper to die in a week. Mark Sutton, the skydiver who parachuted into London’s Olympic Stadium during the opening of London’s 2012 Games, died Aug. 14 in Switzerland when he crashed into a rocky ridge.
Survivors include Davis, two sisters and a brother.