David Kirke , a key figure in the Dangerous Sports Club at Oxford University and one of the individuals responsible for pioneering modern-day bungee jumping, passed away at the age of 78. On April 1, 1979, he made history by performing the world’s first bungee jump, an act that involved him wearing a top hat and tails and holding a bottle of champagne as he leaped off the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, which stands at a height of 245 feet (76 meters).
This daring act was not a solitary endeavor, as three of his close friends joined him in this exhilarating adventure. They all connected to elasticated cords and took the plunge after a hang-gliding trip. After their gravity-defying feat, they were hoisted back up by their friends and found themselves in trouble with the police, who fined each of them £100 for disturbing the peace.
David Kirke drew his inspiration for this incredible bungee jump from the land-diving rituals practiced in Vanuatu, located in the South Pacific. His family remembered him as a “free spirit” who possessed an indomitable spirit, took the lead in endeavors where many feared to tread, and ventured into uncharted territories. His family fondly recalled his “kind and generous nature” and noted that he had made friends in more than 40 countries. He enjoyed a glass of wine and was unwavering in his commitment to the life he led.
Clifton Suspension Bridge jump
The Clifton Suspension Bridge jump in 1979 was a pivotal moment in the history of bungee jumping, but it came at a cost. The stunt led to the banning of bungee jumping from the bridge due to local bylaws. Nevertheless, the Dangerous Sports Club took the concept global by performing jumps from iconic structures such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge in Colorado. By 1982, the club’s members were pushing the boundaries further by jumping from mobile cranes and hot air balloons.
David Kirke described his jump from Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s 150-year-old structure as an “almost beatific moment.” However, he emphasized that the genuine reward lay in the happiness and joy he had brought to countless individuals he would never meet, a testament to the fun he had shared with them.
In 2000, Kirke revisited the Clifton Suspension Bridge and bungee-jumped from it again, marking the 21st anniversary of the sport. The Dangerous Sports Club, originally consisting of Chris Baker, David Kirke, and Ed Hulton, played a pivotal role in popularizing bungee jumping. Their work served as a source of inspiration for AJ Hackett, who further developed the sport from 1988, ultimately establishing New Zealand as its unofficial home.
David Kirke’s adventurous spirit extended beyond bungee jumping. He made attempts to develop other extreme sports, including microlighting. In 1986, he took to the skies tied to a cluster of helium balloons in the shape of a kangaroo, an act that led to him facing prosecution for flying without a pilot’s license. Additionally, he experienced a life-threatening accident when he was launched from an aircraft launcher off a cliff in Ireland, resulting in three spinal fractures.