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Base Jumping off Broadcast Tower Common, but Dangerous

By FOX 47 News. CREATED Jan 16, 2015 State police in Jackson say there have only been two reports of people base jumping off the WLAJ broadcast tower. The most recent one was Wednesday night, when 31-year-old Joshua Sheppard of Southfield died when his parachute didn't open. But just because it's not reported to police, doesn't mean it's not happening.
There are signs warning people to keep out, but sometimes they don't work.
"Those towers aren't supposed to be jumped off of," said State Police Sgt. Kevin Caldwell.
State police say 31-year-old Joshua Sheppard of Southfield died on Wednesday after a failed base jump, falling 1,000 ft off the WLAJ broadcast tower in Jackson County. Sheppard was wearing a parachute but police say it only partially deployed.
Police told FOX 47 this wasn't Sheppard's first jump; he's traveled across the county base jumping and skydiving. But even for an experienced jumper, this is a dangerous activity.
One skydiving company told FOX 47 base jumping is a high risk sport and a person needs to complete hundreds of skydives before they can even start. Plus since it's a lower height there's only one parachute, so there's no emergency safety net.
And police say just because they're not called to the scene doesn't mean more people aren't taking the jump. Former WLAJ Engineer Mike Winsky says he knows that's true.
"We were constantly battling people coming and jumping from the facility," said Winsky, who is now an Engineer at WILX-TV.
Winsky says in his 17 years at his old post a few people would try the jump every year. He's even seen a someone base jumping off the tower when he watched an episode of the reality show "Real TV."
"In the video they tilt down to see the area below and I recognized it as the WLAJ facility," Winsky explained.
In 2006 a man jumped off the same tower and was severely injured.
"On his way down his parachute hit guidewires, collapsed the chute and slid down the guidewire the anchor on the ground, hit it," Winsky said.
It's a dangerous sport but Winsky says there are even bigger risks.
"These are high powered television facilities," Winsky said. "The danger of climbing the tower is bad enough but there's certain spots on the tower where you're going to be exposed to RF radiation to a point where it will do damage to your body."
Winsky compared the damage to a microwave, cooking a person from the inside out.
Even though there are multiple fences and no trespassing signs state police say they're not enough to keep people out.
"It's very possible that many people are out jumping in the middle of night or middle of the afternoon," Caldwell said.
Winsky says the station put barriers around the base of the tower, but they don't always work.
"We hoped that people would think twice about going on that tower and they continued to climb it," he said.