Deadly selfies: Young people risking life for 'likes'
This artcile was originally published on the Channel 7News website here
Ivan Beerkus and Angela Nikolau are famous for taking the most extreme selfies you’ve ever seen. These two young Russians are on a dangerous mission to climb one of Hong Kong’s tallest residential towers.
45 storeys up - and without any safety gear - Angela walks out along a rooftop crane. If she slips, it’s a 200 metre drop, with nothing to break her fall. The wind is gusting around 60 kilometres an hour. Still, she brandishes her selfie stick and strikes pose after pose, working to get the perfect shot.
Not to be outdone, Ivan pulls himself ever higher. With no ropes, no net, and no safety harnesses, he uses his own brute strength to climb upwards to even more dangerous territory.
"It’s really hard to explain," Ivan tells Sunday Night's Angela Cox. "It’s freedom and it’s adrenaline, it’s something special. I feel [my] heart beating, I feel my arms become wet, I feel that sometimes my legs shaking. It’s incredible."
Ivan and Angela think the risk of taking a spectacular selfie is worth it. They have more than one million fans across all their social media platforms - and every follow, like, share, and comment means money.
Ivan and Angela have climbed more than 500 buildings across Asia and Europe to get the perfect selfie. Despite the obvious risks, they’ve been lucky. People are dying trying to impress their social media friends and followers.
Dr Joanne Orlando studies how new technology is changing the way we live - and die. "In the last five years, the number of documented deaths that are selfie-related are over 250. That’s a lot. Five years ago, we wouldn’t have had any of these. Now it seems to be rising quite sharply."
"Around 80,000 images get uploaded to Instagram every 60 seconds. So how do you get noticed? You have to upload a photo that people are really going to react to. It has to be something quite striking. Those kinds of risky photos that you think, 'Wow, he’s crazy!' Photos like that, they get a lot of engagement, they get a lot of likes, they get a lot of comments."
Scott Davis-Ingram was one of those caught up in the deadly game of one-upmanship. He almost ended up in prison after he was caught scaling some of the Gold Coast’s tallest buildings.
Scott showed some of his selfies to Angela. "That's on Aquarius, 6 in the morning. We had an apartment and had a party, still were rooftopping that night, drunk and all that kind of stuff, and then got up early that morning and got some shots. It was scary, but it was worth the shot."
Scott was as addicted to the attention as he was the adrenaline. His photos soon went viral, and it wasn’t long before the police tracked him down. The threat of a year behind bars - plus the responsibility of becoming a father for the first time - finally grounded the 26-year-old.
Scott is one of the lucky ones. Last year, American tourist Gavin Zimmerman slipped and fell while posing for selfies with friends on a precarious cliff top south of Sydney.
Gavin’s family made the difficult journey to Sydney to see where the 19-year-old died.
"I wish I was there," Gavin's mother Jeanette cried. "To reach out and grab him and be like, 'No, you're not leaving me this quick.'"
Heights aren't the only risk people are willing to face for the ultimate selfie. Jayna Harris was the mother of two girls, Kelsea and Savannah.
"We got a call to come down to the sheriff's office or police department," Jayna explains. "The lead investigator sat us down and said, 'We think you'll want this,' and they slid the picture over to us."
"The only picture that survived that day was of the three of these beautiful girls; these all-American blondies with these great big smiles, having the day of their life. And a train light right behind them. It's the only thing that survived."
Kelsea and Savannah loved music and drama. They also loved photography - and that’s ultimately what cost them their lives.
"They were going to go take pictures by the river," Jayna says. "They saw a train coming. As it got closer, Savannah is texting or putting a message on Facebook saying, 'Standing by the train tracks having fun.' Their hair is blowing in the wind, so you know the train is passing, and they've got these great big beautiful smiles."
"What they didn't realise is that on a second set of train tracks that they were standing on, a train had just come around the corner. They couldn't tell that the train behind them was blowing a horn to warn them, and the second train hit them."
"I cried the most heart-wrenching, crazy person cry that could have ever been."
Back in Hong Kong, Ivan and Angela are fully aware of the risk they take every time they clamber atop a skyscraper to pose for a selfie. But the quest to take that perfect photo is just irresistible.
Ivan says that for them, the risk is worth it. "I thought about it many times, but you need to do what inspires you."
"Sometimes I feel crazy when I am on top of building, but I never lose my mind because if you become crazy, you will die."
Reporter: Angela Cox | Producer: Stefan Mitchell