AS JOE JENNINGS SITS IN A NEWPORT, R.I., motel room, relaxing before he competes in the X Games, ESPN’s showcase of extreme sports, a Mountain Dew spot comes on the TV. “Hey, it’s Rob,” the skydiver says excitedly as he watches his former partner Rob Harris make one of the last dives of his life. Jennings, 34, helped film the ad—a James Bond spoof in which a tuxedo-decked man dives from an exploding plane—in December in British Columbia. But, still, seeing it leaves an odd feeling. “He’s everywhere, man,” Jennings says softly.
What most viewers of the commercial don’t know is that Harris, 28, died on one of the last scheduled shooting days. It started out as just another gig for the pair, who had skydived in a dozen TV ads since 1993. Harris, who was single, and his partner “were living fast and loving it,” Jennings says. The Mountain Dew stunt—relatively easy by their standards—called for Harris to jump at 5,000 feet, let loose his first chute at 3,000 feet, do some swoops and twists, then open a second chute. But somehow on this take the lines from Harris’s chutes got tangled, and his reserve didn’t open in time. “I’d seen him deal with worse,” says Jennings. “This was a freak accident.”
A few months later, Pepsico, which owns Mountain Dew, asked Harris’s parents in Manhattan Beach, Calif., if they would consider approving a spot which contained shots of Rob—but none of his final jump. “If it was up to us, we wouldn’t [have allowed it] because it hurt us,” says Harris’s mother, Bea, 55, a corporate administrative assistant. But in the end she and her husband, Larry, 60, a Northrop Corp. consultant, gave their okay. “Rob would have wanted it, and his friends really look forward to seeing it,” Bea says. “And so do we, now.”
Jennings, too, is finally coming to terms with the accident. In 1995 he and Harris won the X Games’ sky-surfing competition. This year, with a new partner, Jennings finished third, but for him the contest was the least of it. On his final jump, he spread a sachet of Harris’s ashes into the sky.