Chinese descent: woman who flew over the Himalayas in a wingsuit now goes skydiving indoors

  • Yu Yin explains why she finds peace while making hair-raising jumps
  • Biggest leap made her first Chinese person to open skydiving school in US
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 November, 2018, 7:04am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 November, 2018, 11:10pm

Jumping out of a perfectly good plane, pulling the ripcord on a parachute, then falling gently back to earth while enjoying the view brings Yu Yin inner peace and freedom.

Drawn to skydiving from childhood, the former marketing manager quit her job in Chicago two years ago and moved west to Los Angeles to become the first Chinese person to establish a parachuting school in the US.

On November 3 last year, Yu became the first Chinese person to fly over the Himalayas in a wingsuit, the batlike apparel that creates a skin from the flyer’s legs to the underarms that increases lift. A parachute does the rest at the end of the trip.

“I felt nervous before this flight because there were few cases [of flights over the Himalayas] for reference,” Yu said in an interview.

“Of course, I have thought about the possibility of death,” the 32-year-old said. “There are more risks in the Himalayas due to altitude sickness, lack of oxygen and air turbulence between the high mountains. So, I wrote my last will in case I died in the attempt.”

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While the will was unnecessary and Yu landed safely, a week later a Russian parachutist in a wingsuit jumped from the similar altitude over a different part of Himalayas and perished in the attempt.

Yu said she felt pity for her counterpart, but the tragedy would not deter her.

“When you fly in wingsuits and go over mountains and over cities, you feel as happy and free as a bird,” Yu said.

“I felt like an ant high in the sky,” she said. “I opened my wings and my speed was increasing. I did not have any feeling of fear. Instead, I felt so free and there was no restriction on me. I thought: I am like an aircraft. This is so cool!”

Yu was born and grew up in Changchun, Jilin province. The seed of her interest in parachuting was sown when she was nine years old when she saw a man on a parachute over her neighbourhood.

“I thought, isn’t it wonderful to fly like a bird?” Yu said.

Her dream was rekindled when she went to study at the Southern Polytechnic State University in Atlanta, Georgia, where she achieved a bachelor’s degree in business and design.

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She took the plunge in 2008 as her roommate’s boyfriend qualified for his parachute coaching licence and offered her a cut-price lesson.

“I was a bit frightened like anybody else, but was more thrilled because it was exciting,” she said.

After landing, she told her coach she wanted to learn skydiving. In two years, Yu made the required 25 jumps and received her A-grade licence from the United States Parachute Association (USPA).

She is now a D-grade licence holder – the highest rating in the sport.

In 2010, Yu moved to Chicago to pursue her master’s degree in finance at University of Illinois. From there she worked in Fortune 500 companies in the Windy City and spent her spare time jumping out of planes.

She is now a veteran of 2,000 jumps around the world, including 500 wingsuit jumps.

Yu has had her frustrations. She said that in her first year of training, the language barrier made it hard to understand her coach. At other times, there was no equipment suitable for her 1.6 metre (five foot three inch) frame as she is smaller than the average American.

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Sometimes she had to wait for hours to jump, for clear weather or for her coach to show up.

Eight years ago, as a junior parachutist, Yu broke three of her fingers on landing. Three years ago, she injured her knees and was confined to a wheelchair for three months.

None of this kept her out of the harness for very long.

In 2016, Yu took the biggest leap of her life to set up the AUV School of Skydiving and Bodyflight in LA, earning herself the distinction of being the first Chinese person to establish a skydiving school in the US.

More than 2,000 people, most of whom are either Chinese or of Chinese descent, have studied at her school. Sixty have graduated to earn their parachuting licences from USPA.

Yu started wingsuit flying in 2012. As a diehard adventure sport fan, she set the goal of flying over the Himalayas last year and spent more than six months in preparation.

She said the cost, 500,000 yuan (US$72,000), came out of her own pocket as she could not find a sponsor.

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The helicopter took off from about 5km (three miles) from Mount Everest and she jumped from an altitude of about 8,000 metres (26,250 feet), Yu said.

She did not encounter any major problems during the flight because, she said, she had prepared so well.

In January, Yu accepted a job offer from iFLY Indoor Skydiving, a US company, as she is keen to promote the sport to more people.

She moved to Hong Kong this summer and works as a senior manager and trailblazer for the Asian region, where the company has not yet established a presence.

Yu said her parents had not watched any of her videos as they thought the sport was too risky.

“I told them, and many other people, that skydiving is actually very safe. It’s safer than many other sports like skiing, rock climbing and riding motorcycles,” she said.