• France's news in English

American wingsuit flyer dies in French Alps

Ben McPartland · 16 Sep 2013, 09:45

Published: 16 Sep 2013 09:45 GMT+02:00

It may not be long before local authorities in the French Alps are forced to consider reinstating a ban on wingsuit flying.

The extreme sport has now claimed the lives of six people this summer, with the latest being a 33-year-old American who died near the Alpine town of Chamonix on Saturday.

The American, who has not been named, jumped from a cliff near the summit of Brévent at a height of around 2,500 metres.

It was unclear how he came to his death and officers from the local gendarmerie’s high mountain unit have opened an investigation into what happened.

The extreme sport of wingsuit flying is described as a combination of hang gliding and sky-diving. 

Wingsuit flyers wear a jumpsuit that uses special fabric to increase the surface area of the body, which allows the jumper “to fly” as they launch themselves from either a "base jump" or an aircraft.

The suit allows the “flier” to freefall for much further than a skydiver, before they open a parachute. But the sport is considered more complicated and therefore more risky than straightforward skydiving.

Those risks are evident in the fact that six “flyers” have now lost their lives in the Alps since the start of the summer, including the British stunt man Mark Sutton, who performed the memorable James Bond stunt at the opening ceremony at the London Olympics.

Sutton died when he hit a ridge near the town of Martigny, Switzerland, close to the border with France in August.

Last year the mayor of Chamonix took the drastic step of banning wingsuit jumps from areas accessible by ski lifts after the death of a Norwegian jumper, who died when his parachute failed to open.

"For us, adventure doesn't mean extreme risk," said Chamonix mayor Eric Fournier at the time.

In a town known for its extreme sports, the ban caused controversy until it was lifted in July this year, under certain conditions.

Jumps from the Brévent cliff and Aiguille de Midi are now permitted again, from June 1st until September 30th, but not between 10am and 3pm. A board listing the rules for base jumping has also been placed at jump sites. They also have to let authorities know of the intention to jump and starting point, which the American victim is known to have done.

Erich Beaud, who was the first man to perform a base jump off a cliff in France in 1989 has spoken of how the new wingsuits can be dangerous for inexperienced jumpers.

“Today the suits are huge and increasingly high-performance. This can mean Formula 1 kind of speeds for people who don’t always have the capacity to control them,” Beaud said.

The former jumper also blamed the emergence of mini-video cameras that thrill seekers and extreme sports enthusiasts attach to their helmets or equipment.

“Some people are confusing video games with reality. You don’t get a second chance in a wingsuit,” he underlined.

But others who know the sport well say the wingsuits themselves are not the dangerous factor.

"It is not the wingsuit that is dangerous but base jumping," Yann Cavé trainee teacher at Savoie Voglans skydiving school told Le Dauphiné Liberé.  He notes that it is much safer to jump from an aircraft than from a cliff and so the the two disciplines should not be confused.  

Other professionals denounce the irresponsibility of some jumpers, who are to eager for the thrills and not prepared to learn the skills.

“You need to pass through the levels step by step before moving on," wingsuit teacher Stéphane Zunino the Alps told French rado Europe1. 

"Often people take short cuts because things are not going fast enough for them. They want to go straight to higher places where the flying is better.

 “We have many people contacting us, without ever having done a skydive from a plane. They think you can just go in a wingsuit like you would go canoeing in a river on a summer holiday.

Judge for yourselves. Does this sport need stricter regualtions? This video below shows a base jump with a wingsuit from the Brévent starting point.

Don't want to miss a story about France? - Then join The Local France on Facebook and Twitter.

Related articles

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France fined after inmate forced to share cell with smokers
Photo: Raul Lieberwirth/Flickr

France fined after inmate forced to share cell with smokers

10 minutes ago

An ex-prisoner in France has successfully sued the state for placing him in a cell with smokers, a court in the northwestern town of Caen said on Thursday.

France adopts bill to keep minors from jihad
Around 500 French nationals are thought to be in Syria or Iraq. Photo: AFP

France adopts bill to keep minors from jihad

17 minutes ago

French lawmakers adopted a draft law Thursday that will require minors to have permission from their parents or legal guardians before leaving the country in a bid to curb departures for jihad in Iraq or Syria.

Hero of French train attack stabbed in US
French President Francois Hollande meets with Spencer Stone. Photo: AFP

Hero of French train attack stabbed in US

15 hours ago

UPDATED: Spencer Stone, one of the three Americans who helped foil a terror attack on a French train, is in hospital in California after he was stabbed while apparently coming to a woman's rescue.

Strike sees rubbish pile up on Paris streets
Rubbish piles up in front of a Parisian doorway. Photo: Patrick Auzou/Twitter

Strike sees rubbish pile up on Paris streets

15 hours ago

Around 3,000 tonnes of (extra) rubbish have accumulated on the streets of Paris as a strike by the city's rubbish collectors enters its fourth day.

France set to slaughter Alps mountain goats
Hundreds of Ibex or Bouquetin are set to be slaughtered in the Alps; Photo: AFP

France set to slaughter Alps mountain goats

15 hours ago

Wildlife groups have been angered by plans to cull hundreds of wild mountain goats in the Haut-Savoie region of the French Alps. But authorities insist they have the action is justified.

France is the future, says boss of US tech giant
France's Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron with Cisco chief John Chambers. Photo: AFP

France is the future, says boss of US tech giant

17 hours ago

France and its Socialist government have been given a ringing endorsement from the boss of an American multinational, who believes the country is about to profoundly change. Air France executives might not agree, however.

Refugee crisis
France wants creation of EU border guard corps
France wants an EU border corps to protect bloc's borders. Photo: AFP

France wants creation of EU border guard corps

18 hours ago

France has made a move to secure Europe's borders by proposing to other member states that an EU border guard corps could be set up to help deal with the tide of migrants and refugees heading into the EU.

Frenchman Platini hit with suspension by Fifa
Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini have both been suspended from Fifa. Photo: AFP

Frenchman Platini hit with suspension by Fifa

19 hours ago

Uefa president Michel Platini has been hit with a suspension by world football governing body Fifa along with the organisation's president Sepp Blatter.

Uber announces 20 percent fare cuts in Paris
Uber is facing stiff competition in Paris. Photo: AFP

Uber announces 20 percent fare cuts in Paris

21 hours ago

Ride-booking service Uber said on Thursday that it would reduce passenger prices in the French capital by 20 percent in a bid to keep up with competition.

JobTalk France - Graduate job hunting
Start with start-ups: Find a graduate job in France
Paris is home to plenty of job fairs, all worth checking out if you're a graduate. Photo: AFP

Start with start-ups: Find a graduate job in France

22 hours ago

Paris-based graduate and job hunter Ellie O'Driscoll offers some sound advice on how to land employment in France after finishing university. You can start with start-ups, she says.

The pro-women French TV commercial that was axed because it was too sexist
The secret to more travel for less
French bakers in trouble with the law for... working too often
What's on in France: Ten great things to do in October
French car makes it from Paris to Bordeaux... without a driver
This pic was enough to see a French beauty queen stripped of her crown
Analysis & Opinion
Opinion: Tearing suits of Air France execs isn't great for France's image
Opinion: France should follow UK and teach drivers not punish them
Paris: See how rundown Gare du Nord became one big disco
When angry French workers target their bosses (and it pays off)
French Riviera floods: Marineland park left under sea of mud
IN PICTURES: French Riviera ravaged by 'apocalyptic' floods
Looters arrested after deadly floods strike southern France
Eight top vegetarian restaurants in France
Indecent exposure: French cops drop trousers at British war memorial
Please France can we just have one emergency phone number
French study: Passive smoking likely to cause kids behavioural problems
Here are 12 reasons why it's worth staying in France
Locals shocked as Nazi banner unfurled in Nice
Burger King to swallow up Quick in France then take on 'McDo'
OPINION: France's jobless benefit system shouldn't be derided
A Day Without Cars: The ten Paris streets you just have to walk down
Revealed: The 12 new zones for late-night and Sunday shopping in Paris
jobs available