These pictures show Queenstown daredevil Chuck Berry and fellow thrillseeker Shane McConkey having the time of their lives knocking off the first-ever base jumps at Milford Sound in February.
Eight weeks later Berry would be doing a tribute skydive into McConkey’s California funeral – his 39-year-old friend was killed in a ski-base jump accident in Italy on March 26.
The pair’s Milford leaps are part of Berry’s dream base-jumping project filmed for Uncharted, playing at the Queenstown Adventure Film Festival.
Berry, 42, says it won’t be upsetting for him to watch – “It was pretty bloody neat to actually have [McConkey] in Milford and actually get a chance to do all that stuff.”
McConkey’s death, during shooting for another film, came while he was performing his signature ski base-jump manoeuvre – skiing off cliffs into thin air and then deploying a parachute. According to a web post by JT Holmes, McConkey’s companion that day, McConkey did a double back-flip as planned but had trouble releasing his skis and ended up in an unstable fall.
He finally managed to ditch his skis but hit the snow before he could release his parachute, according to Holmes. McConkey died instantly.
Just two weeks earlier, McConkey had spoken in a www.myfoxla.com interview about his fascination with pushing limits.
“People can’t understand why we would ever do that. But it’s baby steps. They honestly think we’ve got a screw loose or a death wish – and yes, what we do is dangerous – but I’m a pro skier and pro base jumper and we work our way up to these things and we’re not crazy, not totally.”
Berry first met McConkey in Queenstown several years ago when filming segments for Extreme Tribes.
“We spent a lot of time together picking each other’s brains,” Berry says.
“He’s got a really good mind for dreaming up those kinds of events and a really good sense of his own ability. He was leading the way in the kinds of things he was doing.”
Berry handpicked McConkey, fellow action man Miles Daisher and Kiwi cameraman Sol Vallis to join him for Uncharted.
Berry did the first leap off the 1400-metre high granite pillar Terror Peak, deploying his parachute before coming to a rocky outcrop part way down. McConkey jumped next wearing a wingsuit, enabling him to fly clear of the rocks jutting out before releasing his parachute.
It turned a nine-second freefall into a 35-second flight.
“Shane paved the way on that one,” Berry recalls. “You had to start flying really early and really efficiently to make sure you were flying your body away from the cliff, clearing the really big piece of rock.
“The first time a place gets jumped, you have no idea really how it’s going to go so it’s quite a special moment.
“I was also really lucky to get in there and achieve it with my heroes. That was a real special part. It makes the thrill three-fold bigger when you can look in your mate’s eyes who is about to do the same,” Berry says.
Berry hopes to personally introduce the film at one of the festival sessions.
“I’ve had a lifetime of inspiration from other expeditions that other people around here have done so it’s nice to be able to show some things off.
“It’s a shame [Shane’s] not here. He will continue to inspire people for years to come, I suspect.”