Felix Baumgartner, a former military parachutist from Austria, is the first skydiver to go faster than the speed of sound, reaching a peak of 1,342km/h. On October 14, 2012, the 43-year-old jumped out of a balloon 39 kilometres above New Mexico, also breaking the record of highest freefall. He was in freefall for four minutes and 19 seconds and took nearly 10 minutes in total to descend. Baumgartner has logged more than 2,500 career dives.
Profile: 'Fearless Felix' Baumgartner no stranger to danger
Agence France-Presse in Los Angeles
“Fearless Felix” Baumgartner, the Austrian daredevil who stunned fans around the world on Sunday by breaking the sound barrier in a hair-raising dive from the fringe of space, was “born to fly”.
That’s according to a tattoo the 43-year-old sports, a motto that took on a whole new meaning after his nail-biting feat, the fastest freefall ever by leaping from a capsule more than 39 kilometres above the earth and reaching a top speed of 1,342km/h.
The dramatic jump – which could have ended in disaster by causing his blood to boil – propelled the extreme adventure-seeker into the record books.
It also made a childhood dream come true.
“I always had the desire to be in the air,” Austria’s Kurier newspaper quoted Baumgartner as saying. “I climbed trees, I wanted to see the world from above.”
He certainly did on Sunday – and then some.
Baumgartner, who was born in the Austrian city of Salzburg on April 20, 1969, has come a long way from his younger years working as a car mechanic as he searched for ways to soar from the sky.
He took his first skydive at the age of 16, and improved his skills after joining the Austrian military.
Over time, the buff and tanned athlete – who says “the air is where I am at home” – built up an impressive portfolio of stunts.
One of his first records was in 1999 for the lowest BASE jump ever from the hand of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, which is 29 metres above the ground.
BASE is an acronym for the four things that are jumped from: buildings, antennas, spans and earth.
As a licensed gas balloon and helicopter pilot, he twice also set world records for the highest BASE jump from a building.
The first was from the 450m Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1999, and five years later from the even taller Taipei 101 tower in Taiwan.
In 2003, he completed the first winged “freefall crossing” of the English Channel, leaping out of an aircraft and flying the rest of the way to Calais in northern France with a pair of carbon wings.
Other feats include parachuting into a 623-foot deep cave in Croatia, leaping off the highest bridge in the world, the 343m Millau Viaduct in France.
He had been training for the Red Bull Stratos jump from far above the earth for seven years.
According to his mother Eva, Baumgartner’s latest achievement was “his biggest dream”.
“I’m very happy he gets to do this because he’s worked towards it all these years,” she told Kurier ahead of the event, which was twice delayed due to weather. “Now it’s really his big day.”
Despite the dangers, the telegenic Baumgartner never seemed to fear having to pay the ultimate price for his passion – stressing it was all about doing your homework.
“I hate it if someone calls me a thrill-seeker or an adrenaline junkie because I am not. I like the whole planning,” Baumgartner said ahead of the stunt.
But there was no denying he was glad to be back on the ground safe and sound.
“When you’re standing there on top of the world, you become so humble... The only thing is you want to come back alive,” he told reporters.
Shortly before leaping, in footage beamed live around the world on a crackly radio link recalling Neil Armstrong’s first words on the moon, Baumgartner had said: “Sometimes you have [to go] up really high to [understand] how small you are.”
It remains to be seen what Baumgartner, who divides his time between Switzerland and the United States, will do next.
If his website is to be believed, there could be much more to come: “Everyone has limits – not everyone accepts them!!!” it says.