Erik Roner was 39, a husband and father to two small children.
He was also an athlete, and he liked his sports extreme.
He had been skydiving and BASE jumping for the last 15 years. He helped pioneer the sport of ski-BASE jumping, in which athletes ski off cliffs with parachutes on their backs.
Last year he recreated a famous scene from the movie “Up” by flying through the air in a lawn chair tethered to helium balloons.
Roner died on Monday. He slammed into a tree during a group skydiving performance at a golf course in northern California, becoming the third extreme sports athlete to die in four months.
In May, BASE jumpers Dean Potter, a pioneering rock climber who had studied aerodynamics, and Graham Hunt died after jumping off Taft Point and crashing into a ridge in Yosemite National Park.
Known as an innovator in the world of extreme sports, Potter had recently made a movie, “When Dogs Fly,” that showed him BASE jumping with his goggles-wearing dog, Whisper, strapped to his back.
Daredevil stunts are hardly new. Does the name Evel Knievel ring a bell? One of his more memorable accidents happened when he tried to jump his motorcycle 151 feet over the fountains of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in 1967. He horrified onlookers by crashing and breaking more than 40 bones in his body.
And the new movie “The Walk” tells the story of how 24-year-old Frenchman Philippe Petit rigged a wire between the two World Trade Center towers in 1974 and took a successful, death-defying stroll, a quarter-mile above lower Manhattan.
But with participation in extreme sports and activities on the rise in the United States, especially among young adults, medical researchers are taking stock of the physical dangers. What are the risks of extreme sports, the most popular of which in the United States include inline skating, skateboarding, mountain biking, snowboarding and trail running?
Some appear more dramatic than injuries sustained in traditional recreational sports. Extreme sports participants, for instance, suffer higher incidents of hip and knee dislocations than the general population. Most of them are males ages 10 to 19.
They witness tragedy that other athletes don’t, too.
A 2012 study of BASE jumpers reported that 72 percent of jumpers have seen another participant be seriously injured or die, 43 percent had suffered some type of significant injury and 76 percent had at least one ‘near miss’ with serious injury or death.
More than 4 million injuries, not including deaths, were caused by extreme sports from 2000 to 2011, according to data collected by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.
In the first study of its kind of those injuries, Vani J. Sabesan, an orthopedic surgeon from the Western Michigan University School of Medicine, and her colleagues found more than 40,000 injuries occur every year among athletes who participate in skateboarding, snowboarding, motocross and four other extreme sports.
“The level of competition and injuries we’re seeing keep rising,” Sabesan said. “Many do recover, but not necessarily without long-term consequences.”
Most of them, 83 percent, are head injuries; 17 percent are neck injuries and 2.5 percent were severe enough to cause lifelong disability or death. Skateboaring caused the most head and neck injuries, with more than 129,000 reported during the study’s 12 year time frame.
“A simple thing like wearing a helmet can go a long way toward preventing a lifelong disability,” Sabesan said.
In a 2009 interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal, Roner talked about the risks involved with his stunts, which included BASE jumping a dirt bike into the Grand Canyon.
“I’m not saying that we’re dumb about it, but we’re definitely more shooting from the hip,” he told the newspaper.
“We don’t do things we don’t think are possible, but lots of times we’ll push ourselves. Like, ‘OK, this might hurt’ or ‘this might not work as well as I think, but I think I can do it.’ We only do things where we have a fighting shot.”
After he died, friends told reporters that Roner was not reckless, pointing out that the jump he was making when he died was mundane compared to others he’d made.
Friends said Roner’s death stung like the loss of skiier Shane McConkey, another extreme sports star who died in 2009.
McConkey, 39, was being filmed for a movie while performing a ski BASE jump off the Saspardoi cliff in the Dolomite Mountains in Italy. He had trouble releasing his skis after he jumped, and by the time he was free of them and threw his parachute open, it was too late. He hit the snow-covered ground and was killed.
Here are three other athletes who have recently lost their lives while participating in extreme sports.
He was one of the most famous wingsuit jumpers of all time. Wingsuit jumping is when a person wears a special suit when BASE jumping from high places. When it catches air, the extra fabric on the suit under the arms makes the person look like a flying squirrel. Murphy, who was 30, had just completed the 1,000 jump of his career when he died in a jump in the French Alps in 2012.
Kyle Lee Stocking
In March 2013, the 22-year-old died while trying to swing by rope from the 140-foot tall Corona Arch in Moab, Utah, a place made popular by YouTube videos shot there. The length of the rope Stocking was attached to was too long and instead of swinging freely through the arch he hit the ground under the red sandstone arch. It was the first mishap recorded at an area famously known for the World’s Biggest Rope Swing.
In the summer of 2013 the Russian freerunner was doing a backflip on the edge of a 16-story building in St. Petersburg when he missed the ledge on his way back down and fell to his death. His family released video of the fall, hoping it would prevent others from attempting such dangerous stunts.