Did you have second thoughts about dating someone involved in such a dangeroussport?
wanted to get into. There was a risk versus reward. We talked about this
at great length and I think the reward was worth it for her. A week
before she died we really got into a conversation about how important it
was for her. It was a part of her that made her whole.
I felt very comfortable with their safety protocol. I watched how meticulous she was about her BASE jumping and the
parachute packing, and her mindframe as she climbs up the tower, the
focus. I was very proud of how serious she took the whole thing.
What did Shannon get out of BASE jumping?
She grew up in
an abusive family. So when she was growing up she dealt with insecurity
and never really having a place in the world. BASE jumping is scary for
everybody, I don't care who it is. For her, the ability to be that
strong and overcome it [was empowering], the whole process of overcoming
the fear, and realizing it's just her, there's nobody else that
controls this part of her destiny, that she's 100 percent in control of
I could feel the confidence exude from her when she would
jump. The result of it was joy. Regardless if it was in the middle of the
night, and she had to climb a barbed wire fence and climb up an antenna,
when she landed it wasn't like whew, I'm alive. It was more a life
affirmation, some sort of connection with everything that exists. You
know those moments where you feel more alive than you ever have?
Did you go with her on jumps?
on our first dates around San Francisco, she would be pointing up to
the tops of buildings and [saying] I want to jump off the top of that. She was
like a four year old going to Disneyland - uncontrollable giddiness. So
how can you deny someone something that makes them feel that way?
our second date she said I want to show you something. We came to an
upscale condo complex. We walked in, she waved at the security guard, we
get on the elevator, we get out on the top floor, about 30-40 stories
high. She said, 'This is the first building I'm going to jump off.' She
showed me what she was going to do and I saw how much thought she had
put into it. She never got the chance to do it.
had just sold a business in the Bay Area a week before the
accident. Shannon had just come back from an injury and hadn't been BASE
jumping a lot. For her birthday, she said she wanted to go Twin Falls.
How did that final jump come up?
That weekend she'd
done three jumps on Saturday, Sunday was rained out. Monday
we were on our way to the airport, and it was such a beautiful day
after the storm. The winds were calm. We looked at the clock and figured
we had plenty of time to make one more jump. We were driving out of town at
So what happened?
I've watched the video I was filming at the
time, and I still don't really understand how these pieces fit together.
Physically it was a beautiful exit: she was completely stable, she
reached back. What happened is when she threw the pilot chute
out, the whole thing pushed onto her back in the triangle of dead air on
your back with the air going up and over. All skydivers have had this
happen to us before. In skydiving, you have a bunch of time, and you
have to dip a shoulder to change the wind. In skydiving, it's a very
Shannon turned her shoulder to clear it, but
she just didn't have enough time. It's really a matter of one second. That's the difference between life and death: one second. Her body
simultaneously hit the water as the chute began to open.
What did you do after she hit?
reaction was pain and horror. I started running down the edge of the
bridge as fast as I could. All I could think of was getting down to her
and about two-thirds of the way down I just stopped and this thing
happened to me. There was something in me that knew there was some form
beyond what I knew, because I felt her presence. She was in a place of pure joy, pure bliss.
Ash went to India, where the couple had planned to marry, and spread Shannon's ashes in a traditional
ceremony. Ash began practicing yoga there, and has since become a yoga
this and I stopped trying to plan things and attach myself to outcomes
of things, because when you have an experience like this, you realize
everything could change in a second.
I was finally able to open
to the idea of God. I was always a show-me kind of guy, that until I
met something that proved it, I kept it at arm's length. But the thing
is, something happened to me that I can't ignore. I became part of
something I don't fully understand.
What was the BASE jumping community's reaction to her death?
the time I got home from Idaho, I'd gotten 200 emails from all over the
world from the BASE jumping and skydiving community. They are just the
most amazing people in the world.
Shannon's mom was so upset
that she wanted to make it her life's work to ban BASE jumping. She
didn't know Shannon the way we did; she didn't know this joy and happiness.
We had a memorial service in Southern California, and I drove down with a dozen skydivers. When we
were there we could see the pain in that family. It was like they'd
never overcome this. We had a reception afterward and the skydivers
started talking to the non-skydivers, and they talked about how much joy
she had doing it and it changed the entire event. The whole family
could see another side of Shannon. By the time we left, I don't think
the ban of BASE jumping was ever discussed again.