As World Trade jumpers plead not guilty, some say security is bigger issue

A trio of extreme jumpers faces charges for jumping from the top of One World Trade Center last fall. Parents of firefighters killed on 9/11 are urging leniency, zeroing in on lax security instead.

Ted Shaffrey/AP
In this photo taken from video, skydiver Andrew Rossig, who parachuted off One World Trade Center last year, leaves the state Supreme Court following his arraignment, Tuesday, May 6, 2014 in New York. Rossig and two co-defendants were charged with burglary and reckless endangerment for their jump the night of Sept. 30, 2013.

Three men accused of BASE jumping off One World Trade Center last fall pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan court on Tuesday, in what was less a denial of guilt, more a statement of principle.

The trio of extreme jumpers – Marko Markovich, James Brady, and Andrew Rossig – are facing a number of charges, including felony burglary, for jumping from the top of One World Trade Center, also called the Freedom Tower, at about 3 a.m. on Sept. 30. An alleged accomplice, Kyle Hartwell, also pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.

BASE jumping is the act of parachuting from a high structure or cliff. The acronym comes from the words building, antenna, span, and earth.

The stunt last fall was harrowing to some not just because of the danger to the jumpers hurtling toward the ground, but also because of the gaps it exposed in security for the World Trade Center tower.

The three jumpers do not dispute jumping off the tower. Just a day before the arraignment, one of the men, Mr. Markovich, released an eight-minute video taken from his helmet camera showing him falling from the tower, parachuting over the Hudson River, and landing in a lower Manhattan park. Helmet video of Mr. Rossig and Mr. Brady’s BASE jumps from the tower also appeared on YouTube last month.

All three of the men turned themselves in to authorities in late March, after police identified them. Their explanations for stepping off the top of America’s tallest building – a glassy, angular structure in Manhattan’s Financial District – were similar to those given by many extreme jumpers: It was fun.

Rossig told the New York Daily News in March that neither he nor his fellow jumpers had intended to release footage from their jumps. But now that authorities had made the stunt public, he said he hoped that the jumps exposed fundamental lapses in security at the World Trade Center tower. He called on officials to address how three men had managed to ascend 104 floors (taking the stairs, no less) in a building that is supposed to be patrolled around the clock before it opens later this year.

We just kind of walked in,” Rossig told The New York Times in late March. “It’s supposed to be the most secure building in the world. God forbid it was somebody else getting in there with a real intention to harm New Yorkers.”

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is responsible for securing the tower. Security concerns were also raised after a teen climbed to the World Trade spire in March.

On Tuesday, parents of firefighters killed on 9/11 asked in a court filing for “leniency” for the three daredevils, arguing that the more serious crime was the bi-state agency’s failure to properly secure the tower and that the jumpers who revealed the lax security had been “made scapegoats.”

“If these men were able to easily slip through a hole in the fence and encounter no security, then there is a huge problem at the WTC site, and no lessons were learned from the nearly 3,000 people who perished on 9/11, including our heroic sons,” wrote Sally Regenhard and Jim Riches, a retired deputy chief for the New York Fire Department, according to the Daily News. Both of them belong to the 9/11 Parents and Families of Firefighters and WTC Victims organization.

Lawyers for the three jumpers have said the men oppose the charges on principle, arguing that the actual act of BASE jumping occurs outside the building, so should not be considered a burglary. They have asked that the burglary charge, the only felony count, be dropped and that the cases be prosecuted as misdemeanors under a BASE jumping statute.

The lawyers say that all proceeds from advertising on the helmet cam videos will be donated to the families of 9/11 victims. 

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