To mark milestone birthdays, Nina Reeves and Tammy Flores wanted to do something a bit crazy and way out of character.

So, while in Las Vegas for a speech pathologists' convention, they jumped from the 108th floor of The Stratosphere Hotel, plunging 855 feet in the world's highest "controlled free fall."

"I think the word 'controlled' did something for me," said the almost-40-year-old Flores of New York City, who is terrified of heights, moments before diving off the building.

The SkyJump, a cross between a bungee jump and a zip line, has become the premiere attraction among the thrill rides offered at The Stratosphere, a hotel and casino on the Vegas strip with a tower that resembles the Seattle Space Needle.


ABOUT THE ATTRACTION

The ride, open from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., has averaged 105 jumpers a day since it opened in April.

It is the highest such jump in the world (at the original SkyJump in New Zealand, divers plummet a mere 630 feet) and the only one in North America. The ride works sort of like a vertical zip line: A metal cable attached to a harness on your back zips you down at 40 to 45 mph, slowing automatically as you approach the rubber bull's-eyelanding pad on the ground. From jump to landing, it takes about 17 seconds.

No, no one has died or been injured, but some jumpers do chicken out, said Stratosphere marketing director Todd Ford. For beginner thrill seekers, it's a less petrifying alternative to the uncontrolled free fall of bungee jumping or sky diving.

But it's still petrifying.


TAKING THE FALL

When I visited, I was nauseated with fear - of heights, of equipment failure, of heart attack.

Zipped into a flight suit, I entered a glass-enclosed room, where perennially patient jump masters Carlos and Jesus checked my harness, my shoes, my wrists, the decelerator settings, then checked them all again. And again (upon my request).

A few horrifying moments later, I was outside on a metal platform, facing out over the strip like a human sacrifice, my toes dangling over the edge. Some people jump, but I just let go and leaned forward. There were two terrifying seconds of free fall, but then I felt the tug of the harness and that blessed cable, and I knew they had me. As I zipped down, trying to take in the vast flatness of Vegas around me, I inexplicably flapped my arms and moved my legs like I was on a bicycle.

I have bungee-jumped before and rappelled down the side of a building. After both, I vowed I'd never go again. But the SkyJump was a far less distressing feat, once you get over scooting to the edge of that harrowing ledge - it might even be enjoyable.

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