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The day a daredevil suction-cupped his way to the top of the Arch

The day a daredevil suction-cupped his way to the top of the Arch

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John C. Vincent

John C. Vincent snapped this selfie from the top of the Gateway Arch after his climb to the top on Sept. 14, 1992. (Photo provided by John C. Vincent)

On Sept. 14, 1992, John Vincent climbed the Arch with suction cups, then parachuted to the ground. Vincent was a hero, until he later ratted on his helpers so he could get off with a $1,000 fine, a year's probation and 25 hours of community service. Here was our original coverage of his exploits. Here was our original coverage

A man who used rubber suction cups to climb the Gateway Arch on Monday morning and then parachuted 630 feet to the ground said he did it ''just for the hell of it.''

''It was just for the excitement, just for the thrill,'' said the climber, who identified himself as John C. Vincent, 25, a diver and construction worker from New Orleans. ''Just to climb something that no one's climbed before,'' he said. ''Just to jump something that no one's jumped before.

''It wasn't that hard,'' he said. ''I don't know why somebody hadn't tried it before.''

Vincent was interviewed in an apartment in south St. Louis County several hours after his jump. His parachute, jump suit and suction cups lay in a pile on the living room floor. He wore shorts and a white tank top shirt with the words ''World Free Fall Convention'' printed on it.

Deryl B. Stone, chief ranger with the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, said Vincent was wanted for questioning. Stone said Vincent could be charged with a variety of minor federal offenses, including trespassing, disorderly conduct, parachuting in a national park without a permit and illegal commercial filming on National Park Service property.

Two other men who are reported to be Vincent's accomplices were arrested and charged with misdemeanor offenses.

Shortly before 4 p.m. Monday, Vincent told a reporter that he was ''on my way out of town.''

Vincent said he had been thinking for several months about parachuting from the top of the Arch.

About a month ago, he said, he rode one of the elevators to the top of the Arch to determine whether he could slip through a maintenance opening that leads to the top of the monument.

''Security was too tight,'' he said. ''I decided then that if I was going to do it, I'd have to do it from the outside.''

He said he had practiced with rubber suction cups, usually on smaller buildings, but he said he had not used them to climb more than about 30 feet off the ground before Monday. On Sunday, he said, he took the suction cups to the Arch to test their ability to stick to the stainless steel surface.

''They really stuck good,'' he said. ''I knew then that I was going to try it.''

Vincent said he arrived on the Arch grounds shortly after 3 a.m. Monday and began his ascent up the north leg about 3:30 a.m. He said he moved the suction cups one at a time, placing his feet into stirrups suspended from the cups.

At times, he said, he wiped the suction cups on his pants to clean off dirt or spit on them for a better seal.

He said he wore a black sweat suit and a black baseball cap. He said he is convinced that no one saw him during his two-hour climb to the top of the memorial.

While he concentrated largely on the climb itself, he said he occasionally peered around the corner of the Arch at the downtown skyline. He said his biggest concern was that one of the suction cups would give way before he got at least 100 feet off the ground. A small, reserve chute that he carried, he said, would not have time to open unless he was more than 100 feet off the ground.

''Once I got halfway up, I knew I was going to make it,'' he said.

He said he reached the top of the Arch about 5:45 a.m. and spent the next hour and 15 minutes taking photographs, relaxing and sipping water from two bottles he had carried with him. He sold some of the photographs to the Post-Dispatch.

''I was so scared, but so charged with energy,'' he said of the climb.

He said that several times during his stay atop the Arch he crouched behind the red aircraft warning light at the top of the monument to hide himself from passing helicopters.

He called the sunrise from the top of the Arch ''one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.''

Shortly after Vincent jumped Monday morning, he began contacting media outlets, first calling Guy Phillips, a disc jockey for KYKY Radio (Y98-FM).

Vincent, who describes himself as a licensed pilot, climbing enthusiast and avid parachutist, said he parachuted from the World Trade Center in New York in May 1991. He said charges in that case later were dropped.

The two men who were arrested are Ronald K. Carroll, 37, of the 6400 block of South Kingshighway, and Robert H. Weinzetl, 27, of the 4200 block of Summit Knoll Drive, South County.

Stone, the park ranger, said the two had a video camera, a still camera with a telephoto lens and a voice-activated headset that authorities believe was used to communicate with Vincent as he was climbing.

Stone said Weinzetl and Carroll were charged with disorderly conduct and commercial photography in a national park, both misdemeanors carrying maximum penalties of six months in jail and a $500 fine.

Stone said the commercial photography charges stem from the belief that the three were using the stunt to sell photographs.

''We take this sort of activity very seriously,'' Stone said. ''Not only is he endangering himself, but also people on the ground.''

Stone said national park police patrol the Arch grounds, the parking garage, Luther Ely Smith Square and the Old Courthouse seven days a week, 24 hours a day. ''At 3 a.m., on a non-weekend night, we would probably have two or three officers on duty,'' Stone said. ''If we missed the climber on the grounds, and then if he got above 30 feet up the Arch - well, we don't look up much higher than that.''

Among the few people to have spotted Vincent on the Arch were radio traffic reporters Paul Ford and Dave Walters with Computraffic. From their morning vantage point on the 39th floor of the Metropolitan Square Building, Walters said they first spotted the figure standing atop the Arch shortly before 7 a.m.

Minutes later, Walters said, ''he crouched down, looked over the side and then just leaped. The chute opened almost immediately.''

Said Walters: ''It was breathtaking. It took guts.''

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