Felix Baumgartner

Felix Baumgartner, the man who fell to earth

Austrian extreme-thrill seeker Felix Baumgartner gains new perspective, as well as world record, for free fall in which he broke the sound barrier

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 1:54pm

"Fearless Felix" Baumgartner, the Austrian daredevil who stunned fans around the world by breaking the sound barrier in a hair-raising free fall from the fringe of space, was "born to fly".

That's according to a tattoo on the 43-year-old adventurer, a motto that took on a whole new meaning after his nail-biting feat on Sunday - the fastest, highest free fall ever.

The dramatic parachute jump from nearly 40 kilometres above the earth - which could have ended in disaster by causing his blood to boil - propelled Baumgartner 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 that on Sunday, and a lot more.

Millions of people around the world watched live as Baumgartner gave a short salute and stepped out of his capsule 39,055 metres above a barren desert in the US state of New Mexico.

"Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you are," Baumgartner said before stepping off the small ledge on the outside of his capsule, that had been lifted into the stratosphere by a helium-filled balloon. "I'm going home now," he said before falling into the void. Ten minutes later he was safely back on solid ground.

During his descent, Baumgartner hit a top speed of 1,343km/h, becoming the first free-falling human to crack the sound barrier. He also set a record for the highest-altitude manned balloon flight.

There were a couple of dicey moments.

While Baumgartner was ascending, he told mission control about a "serious" issue with the heat in his visor faceplate. He couldn't feel warmth on his face, and the visor was fogging up. But officials gave Baumgartner the go-ahead for the jump.

Not long after he stepped into the stratosphere, Baumgartner began wildly spinning as he descended at high speeds. Officials had feared a so-called "flat spin" - a horizontal spin that can lead to a loss of consciousness.

But Baumgartner righted himself. "We were glad he was able to get it under control," said Art Thompson, technical project director for the mission. "He went into a tumble."

Before the feat, there had been concerns about how a human body might respond to supersonic speeds without the benefit of aircraft. But at a post-event news conference, Baumgartner said he didn't know when he sped through the sound barrier. "I didn't feel it at all," he said.

After free falling 36,500 metres, Baumgartner pulled the rip cord and sent his red and white parachute streaming into the sky.

Baumgartner, who was born in Salzburg, Austria, on April 20, 1969, took his first skydive at the age of 16, and improved his skills in the Austrian military.

The 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 dive, 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 four things from which daring parachutists can jump: buildings, antennas, spans and earth.

He twice also set world records for the highest BASE jump from a building. The first was from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1999, and later from the even taller Taipei 101 tower in Taiwan. In 2003, he completed the first winged "free fall 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.

He had been training for Sunday's jump for seven years.

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.

Agence France-Presse, McClatchy-Tribune



A Social Event

Felix Baumgartner's skydive from the stratosphere was a boon for social networks as millions of users shared in the wonder of the moment, watching live from their computers, tablets and phones. Here's a look at how the world watched the jump.


As Baumgartner ascended in the balloon, so did the number of viewers watching YouTube's live stream. Its popularity grew as the moment of the jump drew closer, as people shared links with each other on Twitter and Facebook and websites embedded the stream. Nearly 7.3 million viewers were watching as Baumgartner sat on the edge of the capsule, moments before the jump. More than 40 television networks in 50 countries carried the live feed, organisers said. It was streamed by more than 130 digital outlets.


After Baumgartner landed, sponsor Red Bull posted a picture of the daredevil on his knees to Facebook. In less than 40 minutes, the picture was shared more than 29,000 times and generated nearly 216,000 likes and more than 10,000 comments. After the jump Red Bull solicited questions for Baumgartner through Facebook and Twitter, promising to answer three at a post-jump news conference.


During the jump and the moments after Baumgartner landed, half the worldwide trending topics on Twitter had something to do with the jump. Celebrities of all kinds weighed in. "It's pretty amazing that I can watch, live on my computer, a man riding a balloon to the edge of space so he can jump out of it. #TheFuture," tweeted Wil Wheaton, who acted in the iconic science-fiction series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Associated Press