Authorities said a 35-year-old Napa County man was killed Sunday afternoon after he apparently parachuted off Mount St. Helena and collided with the mountain.
Walden Grindle traveled the world in pursuit of his love of BASE jumping and since 2002 was manager of geographical information systems at Jack Neal & Son Vineyard Management.
Authorities Sunday said it was unclear what the St. Helena man, who recently was married, was doing prior to his death, other than he apparently hiked up a fire trail to the top of the mountain, where he jumped with some type of parachute.
The Napa County Sheriff’s Office, which initially reported it as a paragliding accident, later said Grindle was found with a “speed parachute.”
Grindle called someone on a cell phone after he apparently collided with the mountain to report that he was injured and that he had possibly broken his hip, Sheriff’s Sgt. Doug Pace said.
He said Grindle also activated an emergency beacon that notified the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center, which in turn contacted sheriff’s emergency dispatch at about 12:40 p.m.
Grindle was found at about 1:10 p.m. A crew member aboard the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office helicopter was sent down on a long line to help the injured man, but he already was dead.
Mark Neal, president of Jack Neal & Son, Sunday praised Grindle as an outstanding employee. “You asked for it and it was done,” he said.
Grindle earned dual degrees from the University of California at Davis in electrical and computer engineering, according to the company’s website. His Linkedin profile stated that he also was president of the university’s Ski or Snowboard Club.
Neal said Grindle was an avid thrill-seeker who spanned the globe pursuing his love of BASE jumping, which entails leaping from fixed objects while using a parachute to break the fall. The acronym stands for “Buildings, Antennas, Spans and Earth.”
A 2009 YouTube video appears to show Grindle doing a back flip off a bridge in Idaho, his parachute deploying just in time for landing. He dubbed the maneuver “Walden’s Awesome Reverse Deployment.”
The move earned him plaudits on Basejumper.com, including from one person who wrote, “When BASE jumpers get bored, they get dangerous. That was cool.”
Grindle was arrested in 2007 after he and another man jumped off El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, according to news reports.
Neal, an avid sportsman himself, said he told Grindle to consider the dangers of his sport in light of his marriage nine months ago.
“He lived on the edge, but on a work level, he was an amazing person,” Neal said. “The integrity, the respect, the precision. All of his work was amazing, second to none.”
Pace said he was not aware of Mount St. Helena being a destination for parachutists. “Obviously, we don’t have the staffing to go up there. I don’t think this was illegal, what he did, anyway,” he said.
He said an autopsy was planned.