A $287 trespassing fine was a small price to pay for Johnny Korthuis to fulfil his long-held dream — a dream that happened to involve parachuting 95 metres off of a privately owned Lethbridge landmark.
But his 12-second jump was just the beginning of the fallout after a video of the illegal stunt attracted thousands of views and the police came knocking on his door.
The 25-year-old adventurer and arborist returned from skydiving and rockclimbing in the United States to deliver a youth TEDx talk on fearlessness in his hometown last Friday. The next day, Korthuis decided to put his own fear aside and conquer the Canadian Pacific Railway’s High Level Bridge. The wind had died down, the sun had broken through the clouds and the iconic train bridge, the same one he’d driven by thousands of times, was calling to him.
“It was just too perfect, you know what I mean? So I decided that I was going to make the jump,” Korthuis said. “I knew that it was illegal and, I mean, I didn’t think that it was going to get this kind of attention.”
That Saturday afternoon, he roused his friend and videographer, 20-year-old Taber native Curtis Huisman, and they set off for the riverbottom. Within the hour, Korthuis had hiked along the base of the steel viaduct, scoped out his landing area and packed his parachute, so that around 4:15 p.m., he was ready to jump.
“A lot of people think about getting to the edge and thinking like, ‘oh my god, I don’t want to die’ and things like that, and obviously fear is super real. I mean, it’s something that we all feel. When you’re standing on the edge, you just sort of visualize that fear, you put it aside and then you move on,” said Korthuis, who, apart from co-owning a family tree care business, has been skydiving for two years and BASE jumping for the past few months.
“I’m not up there thinking, ‘this is going to be the coolest footage ever,’ or ‘this is so badass!’ I’m literally just up there thinking ‘I’ve prepared, this is what I’ve come here to do, and it’s time to do it.’”
He stepped off the edge of the bridge and let the freefall begin, counting exactly one second before he threw his pilot chute, picking up enough speed before his parachute opened and carried him to the ground for a safe landing.
Huisman, meanwhile, stood on the ground, gripping his camera with sweaty hands. His heart was pounding. And he wasn’t even the one jumping.
“It was wild. I can watch the video right now and honestly still can’t believe I filmed that and I can’t believe he did it. It was like both of our dreams just came true so quick. Like, I had shot something so unreal and he had actually done it,” he said.
By 6 p.m., Huisman had posted his video of the jump online, intending it to be a teaser for a longer film with more footage. By Tuesday afternoon, the clip, “Falling Objects,” had reached nearly 5,000 views on YouTube.
“I knew the video was going to be popular. I didn’t think it was going to be this popular,” said Huisman, a University of Lethbridge student in marketing and new media.
“I personally don’t believe that someone is going to watch this video and say, ‘hey, I want to do that.’ Because the skill and belief behind doing this is crazy. To have the guts to walk out onto the bridge and to be able to jump off alone is absolutely insane.”
The next day, Lethbridge regional police charged Korthuis with trespassing on private property and fined him $287 after a witness tipped them off about the jump.
“As a Police Service we're concerned that this video and the notoriety it seems to be generating could potentially lead to copy cats and the last thing we want to have to do is go and knock on someone's door and tell them that their loved one has been hurt or killed because of this kind of a stunt,” Lethbridge Regional Police Service spokesperson Kristen Harding said in an emailed statement.
The punishment prompted some of Korthuis’ local supporters to jokingly take up a collection to pay the fine, but Korthuis said he respects the police and he’ll pay the penalty himself.
“The fine is mine. I broke the law. I’m taking responsibility for my action and I want people to see that I’m taking responsibility for that action. I don’t want a bunch of kids thinking that it’s cool to break the law. That’s not why I did that,” he said.
“I don’t take a lot of silly risks. I’m not an adrenaline junkie or a thrill-seeker. I’m just motivated to live my life and do the things that I want to do and achieve the goals that I want. So this is just one of them.”
The 25-year-old is heading off to Phoenix and then to Las Vegas to continue his skydiving training. But he has no plans to jump off the High Level bridge again.
“It was a one-time thing.”