Wingsuit flying is arguably the most dangerous feat in the sky diving world. Only a handful of people are good (or crazy) enough to do it. Hans Lange, a 44-year-old Norwegian, is one of the best. The other is, of course, Jeb Corliss.
Travelling at speeds in excess of 100 mph there is little margin for error, but wingsuit flying fits Corliss’ pysche perfectly. Having had a troubled childhood, Corliss acquired a pathological desire to confront fear. In 1997 he made his first BASEjump and since then has stepped off virtually every major outcrop and edifice on earth, including the Eiffel Tower and Malaysia’s Petronas Towers.
Things didn’t always go to plan. In 1999, he was blown into an African waterfall, broke several ribs and his back in three places and spent a month prone in a hospital bed. In 2003, his friend and fellow jumper Dwain Weston died in front of his eyes while the two were attempting to become the first duo to fly simultaneously over and under the world’s highest suspension bridge in Colorado. Weston crashed into the bridge and was killed instantly. The two men were wearing wingsuits.
His leap off the Empire State Building in 2006 was also foiled. He was caught before he could launch himself and was convicted of reckless endangerment. Wanting to stop any further attempts by anyone to throw themselves off the Empire State Building, the powers that be in New York were hoping that he would receive at least a 1-year prison sentence, but he got off with 3 years probation and 100 hours community service… The experience shook Corliss though. “I’ve become very good about dealing with fear, but sitting infront of a judge – this was a different kind of fear because I could have had my freedom taken away,” he said.
The step from BASEjumping to proximity wingsuit flying was a natural one for him, wingsuit flying being an evolution of BASE jumping that now preoccupies most of the sport’s top athletes.
And it was only a matter of time before he was looking for the ultimate challenge, the ultimate risk… to proximity fly down the Matterhorn.
It is illegal to proximity fly down mountains in the US, so to perfect his precision technique he practiced by flying close to (a few feet from) parachutist Luigi Cani, a Go Fast! sponsored test pilot. And then it was the next plane to Europe, Italy and the final training jump at the famed Montebrento.
Thank god for Europe where you are still allowed to be a daredevil even if it means you might lose your life…
Henry Lowther, a pilot, says “I like to see people doing this stuff. It’s life… There’s no 100% safety… never.”
Montebrento (psymosk) has a fearsome reputation claiming the lives of 6 BASEjumpers in 5 years…
…and it lived up to its unpredictable reputation for Jeb Corliss as he landed in trees and broke his left hand.
Did this mean that the long anticipated Matterhorn jump was off? Are you kidding? There was nothing wrong with his right hand was there?
“Oh my God,” were his first words after landing, “I was so close I can’t breathe… I scared myself so much you have no idea how scared I was. Oh my god, I shouldn’t be this close…”
And once he’d regained his breath, he said “that was so much cooler that I thought it would be. That was the best proxy flying I’ve ever done in my life. Without question.”
At times he was as little as 5 to 10ft above the mountain… that takes courage. “You have to manage your fear” he says, “but keep in the fear that keeps you alive.”
Corliss still has his eyes on the ultimate goal: to become the first person to leap from a plane and land without a parachute.
The attempt is currently stalled due to fund-raising hurdles; he needs to raise $3 million to pay for the contraption he’s dreamed up to facilitate the landing. This will be built by some former NASA engineers and is most often imagined as a sort of slide built at an angle that he will match as he flies in, then impact and use good old friction to slow him down. However, he is keeping the actual design secret for now…
“To really do something we’ve never done before is getting almost impossible,” he says. “To land something at basically terminal velocity and walk away? That’s human achievement. It’s every bit as important as climbing Everest the first time, but you can do it on the ground, in Vegas, with 500,000 spectators there watching it live…”
Watch this space…