St. Louis wingsuit flyer promises to avoid the Arch

Thursday, August 22, 2013 | 5:09 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — A wingsuit flyer who has gained YouTube fame for spectacular stunts will soar over downtown St. Louis on Friday evening in full view of 40,000-plus Cardinals fans, but he promises to stay away from the city's most inviting and off-limits stunt site — the Gateway Arch.

Alexander Polli, a 28-year-old Italian-Norwegian, plans to jump from a plane at 4,000 feet near Busch Stadium at 6 p.m. Friday, about an hour before the Cardinals host the Atlanta Braves. He'll be wearing a wingsuit, an aerodynamic jumpsuit that makes the wearer look like a winged superhero and soar for long distances before opening a parachute.

Spokeswoman Meghan Spork said Polli will reach speeds of 140 mph as he does stunts such as flips during the three-minute flight over downtown. As inviting as it may be, though, Polli will not fly between the legs of the Arch or land on or near it, Spork said.

"We suggested that would be cool, but no, that's not the plan now," Spork said.

The National Park Service, which operates the iconic monument, won't allow it for security and safety reasons. Violators face possible arrest, jail time and a fine. Rose Hoots, a management assistant at the Arch, said Polli and his associates have not sought permission, nor would it be granted.

Spork cited security reasons in declining to specify where Polli will land, but a news release said the best place to watch is from near the Arch grounds.

Spork said SceneTap has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for the jump.

Maggie Crane, spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay, said the jump cannot take place directly over the ballpark, which is protected airspace. Still, fans preparing for the game "will be in close enough proximity to see Alexander's flight path from their seats," Spork said.

Polli has an international following for his stunts. In April, he flew through a small hole in a rock formation on the side of a Spanish mountain, and a video has generated nearly 10 million views on YouTube.

The St. Louis stunt is sponsored by SceneTap, a mobile app for the nightlife scene, and is part of its launch.

Federal authorities take a hard line against any stunts involving the Arch, dating to 1965, just before the monument opened. Still, some have disobeyed.

Parachutists have also illegally used the Arch. In 1980, Kenneth Swyers landed on the monument and had planned to base jump from it, but the wind knocked him to his death before the second parachute could open. In 1992, John Vincent used suction cups to climb the Arch and successfully parachuted off it. He was arrested and charged with two misdemeanors.

Wingsuit jumping also has its risks. Earlier this month, jumper Mark Sutton, 42, died when he crashed into a rocky ridge in the Alps in Switzerland. Sutton gained fame when he parachuted into London's Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics dressed as James Bond.

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