> On Mother's Day weekend in 1993, JD was leading a second unit production for the filming of a TV commercial I believe, and was out at this site for film production. It was a 4 day gig, and the producer released all the crews at the end of the 3rd day, and since there were park permits, Indian permits, helicopters and hotels paid for, that he could not get back, he did not want to waste a day that he could be jumping the best legal cliff known at that time. So, he called a bunch of close friends, and said "if you can get here by the morning, you can jump for free". Wow - I packed and hit the road as fast as I could.
> That was too good to pass up, everyone had heard of this place, but no one but JD knew the ins and outs of how to make it actually work. Of course Jon was called as well, as were several others, I flew into Phoenix and rented a car, Jon and Susan drove from Sacramento. There were two other guys I knew from the Sacramento area, who were friends of Jon's, who also came; several of JD's other friends came up from Phoenix and Tucson as well. (JD - in that time period, everywhere we went we were arrested for trespassing or other made-up charges because people did not like or understand what we were doing, it was a real hassle to find a legal spot to jump from).
> And so, things got off to a good start, everyone had jumped except for Jon and JD, they would jump last on this round. I had just jumped off with one of JD's friends, Ned, who was a retired firefighter he knew from Phoenix. We had done a two-way, and I had filmed him, and he filmed me with POV views - I shot video, Ned shot stills. It was a very cool experience, after you opened your parachute, you had to fly down the canyon probably a quarter of a mile to a small landing area on a sandbar. You had to do it right, or you could get hurt really bad here........ or worse. You did not want to get hurt here, it would be a long, long time before you got any help (as you could be stuck on the wall or on top of the talus which was all jagged boulders). When I first talked to him about it, before I'd actually been there he seemed a little snooty about it, but JD was right when he was adamant about only experienced jumpers here.
> We had just landed and I had taken off my helmet, set it on the ground, and was taking off my gloves and gear when Jon and JD called on the radio and said they were getting ready to go, then they jumped. The plan was for JD to do a 6 second delay (about 400'), and Jon an 8 (about 600'), but as JD's parachute was opening, Jon's opened at the same time, in a surging hard turn, and instantly he ran into and entangled JD. Jon was dangling under JD, his parachute completely wrapped on and around him, they both looked helpless - and tragically he (Jon) did not have a reserve - he may have been able to use it had he had one.
> JD's canopy appeared to be mostly open at first, we all started yelling and screaming, of course they were too far away and could not have heard us, (JD- it was at least 1/4 mi away or more). The canopy collision impact caused JD's parachute to turn, and with Jon's parachute wrapped around him, we all were screaming "turn turn turn" but within a few seconds, they ran into the wall, JD's parachute split right down the middle, and it started a high-speed whirling, almost helicopter-like spiraling descent; they slammed into the wall several times, and then, horrifically, at high speed they slammed into the ground at the base of the cliff, right where the wall met the talus, a good 400-500' up from the canyon floor - 45 degrees up, all boulders.
> The whole thing could not have lasted more than about 10 or 12 seconds, it was awful to see - on my video, when I ran it back later at home and heard it, the audio was awful. Right after they slammed into the ground, I said aloud to everyone "we have to get up there, right now" to which Ned, who was an older gentleman who I'm sure had seen many terrible things in his day as a firefighter, simply & calmly replied "What for? They're both dead........."
> We had to cross the wash (that had flowing water in it, knee deep) and hike through boulders and brush the quarter of a mile or so to the bottom of the talus. Once there, I thought I heard voices, and one of the guys said "it sounds like they are still alive". Again, Ned said " no way, not at that speed, and not landing in those rocks".
> At that time, the helicopter pilot thought it was best to call for rescue, just in case, gave us his radio frequency to talk with him on, and he took off. He got into the air and broadcast out over open channel and was able to reach a someone who could call for a rescue team. We started up the talus, moving as fast as we could, cutting our hands, twisting our feet, everything was loose - it was a perfect scenario for someone else to get hurt as well.
> It took us quite a while to get up there, at least 45 minutes, maybe even an hour - we discovered there was no where to land a helicopter anywhere along the way; as we neared the guys, we could hear groaning when we stopped for breath, and sure enough when we got to the top, exhausted from the climb, there they were - Jon was laying spread out on a huge flat slab of rock, and JD was a few feet to the side, laying on top of a smashed bush or small tree, totally wrapped in Jon's canopy.
> Incredibly, JD was awake, but like semi-delirious, and at first saying" Ah fuck, ah fuck," and then when he realized we were there, "come on man, one of you guys help me up" - he was kind of twisting, but not really moving, like he was crippled. Ned told me to try to calm him down, while he tried to check Jon........and, like in a nasty horror movie, there was blood everywhere. It was hard to believe that this was actually happening, and I was kneeling in their blood, it was all over my hands, trying to help, it was awful.
> Right away, Ned said Jon had no real pulse, and he took his last breath moments later. Ned calmly said " he's gone" - it was surreal, this isn't really happening, right?
> His legs were obviously broken, his belly was really swollen, his head busted open. I was in a stunned state, and the other 2 guys who were Jon's friends were hysterical, one of them, named Joel I believe, keep saying "I gotta get out of here" - he finally did piss Ned off, who told him to "go on ahead and get the hell out of here, you're not helping in any way".
> I was really disappointed in that dude, he was useless. Long afterwards, at another place he was talking shit about being there, I told everyone what a pussy he really was and he needed his ass kicked. I was PISSED, and I am usually a pacifist.
> Ned was amazing, he keep talking calmly to JD, telling him to "shut up man, try to calm down", and that he shouldn't move, he & I tore up JDs parachute and wrapped up his bigger open wounds, the back of his head was blasted open, his mouth, his nose, even around his eyes were all gushing blood - he was cut everywhere - and he was going into shock. His face and arms were getting pale, almost white, (as was Jon's), he had lost so much blood his pulse was very weak, when I asked Ned how's he doing, he would just look at me and shake his head side to side without saying it - "he's not going to make it ". I felt helpless, but Ned kept me busy trying to pacify JD, he was being very vocal, saying "Jesus man, come on, help me up" - he was delirious.
> After what seemed eternity, another helicopter showed up, and at first they landed in the bottom next to our helicopter, the two pilots talked for a moment, and then incredibly the rescue helicopter flew up as close as he could to us, put just the front of one skid on a large rock, and let the rescue guys climb out that skid with their gear. It was windy, and gusty, that guy was one hell of a stick. They started to rig a setup to rope a basket down to a point where the helicopter could land, and loaded up JD in that basket. It seemed to take forever, but they finally got him out & on on the way down to where the chopper landed, the EMT I spoke to, said he wouldn't make it to the hospital (in Flagstaff, 40 min flight away). He was white as a ghost by then.
> It had been the worst day of my life, It was tough, and those rescue guys did a great job under difficult circumstances - but I believe it is Ned who JD owes his life too, up to that point. Ned saved Him.
> The accident had occurred early in the morning, and it was nearly dark by the time we got all of our gear out of the bottom of the canyon and flown back up to the vehicles. We all headed towards the motel, in our own cars, about a 45 minute drive away, not saying anything. Ned and I had done our best to clean up, but we were covered in blood, our clothes were ruined. I was in a dramatic state, Ned was upset about what had happened, but he didn't show any emotion on the outside. The one thing I do remember him saying back at the hotel, was that he said JD had once told him, after another friend of theirs that I knew too - Dead Steve Morrell - had been killed in the past, "if you do this shit long enough, it'll catch up to you", and how ironic it was - it did catch up to Jon and JD.
> How did this happen, to the most experienced cliff jumper in the world? To one of the most experienced rock climbers in the world? That thought ran over and over and over, all day in my mind. I had just watched a very good friend die, and wasn't sure if I'd ever see the other one again. I was kind of numb as while driving from the hotel to the hospital in Flagstaff, which was over an hour away, in the dark, out in the middle of nowhere, my thoughts were all over the place - I did not even know how I would tell Susan, that Jon had died, because I did not see her after we got out of the canyon bottom, (unbelievably, she was on the top the entire time after this happened, she never went into the bottom of the canyon when we jumped, where she was she could not have seen what happened), by the time I got back up top, she had already left in their car, I had to assume she talked to the cops who were up on top, standing around, (doing nothing like they usually do in those scenarios), but I didn't know at that time.
> When I got to the hospital, I went into the emergency room, Ned had already arrived just before I did, and someone had told him that JD had died en-route, on the helicopter ride in to the hospital.
> Because we weren't family, the hospital staff would not share anything with us, Ned told me he had to pull out his old firefighter credentials and ask another medic who happened to be there. I do remember some guy who might have been a doctor, came out and asked me a bunch of questions about JD, stupid things, that had nothing to do with what had actually happened. I had the distinct impression that he was not told what had happened, all he knew was "some fucked up guy arrived DOA", which I took great offense to because that "fucked up guy" was my friend, and he was looking for family contact information. I did not know anything else other than JD's home phone number, and I did not have it with me. With that, there was nothing else for me that I could do, so I drove back to Phoenix and took my flight home to San Fran the next morning. It was a very somber day that first day afterwards, I had never seen anything so dramatic, so terrible, it was awful, and I will never forget it.
> Jon Bowlin, my parachuting and rock climbing buddy, with that shit-eatin grin on his face all the time, was gone, forever.
> The following weekend, after I got numerous phone calls from jumping friends asking if I knew anything about it, I went out to the Lodi drop zone, where we frequently jumped at, and where I had met Jon years earlier. I was describing the story to some friends over a beer that evening, and someone I didnt know joined in on the conversation and said "no, I think you're wrong, I heard JD is still alive". I looked at him and I said no, I hate to tell you this, I saw him in his last moments, he was white as a ghost, The EMTs and his good friend who was a trained medical person, both said he was all but dead, and we had even been told at the hospital that he was DOA at the helicopter pad.
> This guy kept on and insisted, and said "no, I know him and many of his friends, they heard it on the news, and one of his friends is a TV news reporter who had actually called or gone up to the hospital the next day and had said on TV news that he was still alive".
> ( JD-Now remember, this is before the Internet, and cell phones), our news only came from television news, papers, and telephone calls from other people. So sometimes information was slow to spread. Finally, one of JD's friends from Phoenix, ( I think his name was Nick), had told a good friend of mine that he had heard what happened, and he himself had been up to the trauma ward in Flagstaff, and had seen JD - and yes, he was still alive !
> Finally, I got a chance to talk to one of the climbers who helped in the rescue. (Name of Paul ?) He had told me that he knew who Jon Bowlin was, from his rock climbing experiences, but he did not know he was actually working on him at the accident site. He also said that as soon as the helicopter landed at Flagstaff, they just take the victims off the bird, turn them over to the staff, and go on home. Thus, that explains why nobody knew what the hell was going on.
> He said he had gone back the next day, asked about the guy they brought in, was told he was still alive and had actually seen him. He described one messed up dude. He was in a coma or unconscious (later I learned it was for days), he was in a fetal position in his bed, and he was solid black, from all the internal blood leakage, from his chest down. He said they used every unit of plasma they had on the way in, and still his blood pressure was very low, and that he did not think he would make it. So, he said he was surprised to hear he had pulled through the night. He had also had the opportunity to meet JD's brother, who had come up from Phoenix, where he lived, and that brother was actually a trauma nurse and was helping to oversee what they were going to do with JD (I forgot his name). He apparently was touch and go for several days, apparently when you have that much internal bleeding, strokes are very common and usually fatal, that was their single biggest worry. He had multiple fractures in his skull, both shoulders had been dislocated, there were seven vertebrae with compression fractures. Both hips had been dislocated; both had vertical fractures. His left ankle was broken, his right heel was shattered. Paul had told me that if this guy lived, he would have health issues the rest of his life. It really did not sound good, in fact it sounded terrible. I knew JD had a wife and young children, and that he had just starting doing well at work in a new career. I still cannot get over the sight of them both laying there, and believe that he actually made it.
> AND SO......... that's my version of the story, I know that JD has improved and I actually saw him a few years later. When we talked at length about that weekend, he just said how grateful he was to have done so many really cool things in his life, and even better yet to still be alive, and that he was going to come back 100%, screw the doctors and their bad prognosis.
> I hope he does.
> Jon Bowlin - Godspeed my friend, until we meet again.
> Steve M.