Professional daredevils Rex and Melissa Pemberton were drawn together by a mutual passion for risk and adrenaline. Now they have a marriage based on love, trust, and the strange, stoic acceptance that their life partner could die at any moment.
For the next five months, they jumped and climbed across Australia, scuba-dived on its reefs, and leaped off Malaysian skyscrapers. In September 2007, at Colorado’s Royal Gorge, where they spent three days among a tribe of fellow BASE jumpers hucking themselves from a 956-foot-high bridge, he told her he loved her. He told her right after he realized the downside of finding your perfect match—right after he first felt the fear that hasn’t left him since.
Their helmet cameras documented the moment, the last of their 5 jumps: Melissa goes first, with a whoop and two backflips. She free-falls for three seconds and at about 500 feet pulls her chute, which opens cockeyed. Her lines cross and send her into a spin, back toward the rock face. She struggles to untwist the lines, and the video bounces between flashes of rock face, sky, and red-and-white parachute canopy. Rex, still above, sees that she’s in trouble.
“Fuck!” Melissa yells. She kicks herself away from the wall and keeps falling. She slams into the cliff again, tries to kick away with her left leg, and snaps her tibia and fibula. Finally, she plunges toward the rocks below until her chute catches on a small outcropping. Pieces of rock torn loose by her parachute cascade in a shower around her. She hangs 200 feet off the ground, and Rex thinks he’s just watched her die.
“Ohhhh fuck! Fuck!” he yells, then shouts for the high-angle rescue climbers on standby above.
“Is she moving?” His voice is now a pained moan. “Is she moving?”
“She’s moving, Rex,” a friend says. “She’s OK.”
“I think I broke my leg,” Melissa yells. “I’m passing out.”
“Don’t pass out,” Rex shouts. “Are you bleeding?”
“No,” she says. “I’m going to pass out.”
“Did I tell you that I love you?” he yells.
Melissa laughs. “I love you, too,” she says.