• France edition
 
American wingsuit flyer dies in French Alps
A wingsuit flyer about to take a jump. File photo: Hakon Thingstad/flickr

American wingsuit flyer dies in French Alps

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.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Napoleon's locks to be put in Swiss watches
Detail of portrait of Napoleon by painter Jacques-Louis David (1812).

Napoleon's locks to be put in Swiss watches

Napoleon's admirers will be able to carry his DNA on their wrists after a Swiss company announced Tuesday its plans to sell watches containing a fragment of the emperor's hair. READ  

Angry French women shame gynos on Twitter
Gynaecology photo: Shutterstock

Angry French women shame gynos on Twitter

French women fed up with inappropriate comments or behaviour from gynaecologists have taken to Twitter in their thousands to vent their spleen under the hashtag #PayeTonUterus (paying for your uterus). READ  

French pair on trial for Israel hit-and-run death
Pilates instructor Lee Zeitouni (pictured) was hit by a speeding car on a city street in September 2011 and left to die. Photo: Jack Glez/AFP

French pair on trial for Israel hit-and-run death

Two Frenchmen allegedly involved in the hit-and-run death of an Israeli woman in Tel Aviv three years ago will finally stand trial in Paris on Thursday. READ  

'EU could survive without UK, not France'

'EU could survive without UK, not France'

The European Union would “survive” if the UK pulled out but it would be “dead” if it lost France. That’s the view of outgoing European Council President Herman Von Rompuy. READ  

Ebola: Hollande to be first leader to visit region
Guinean Red Cross workers wearing protective suits carry the corpse of a victim of Ebola in Macenta. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Ebola: Hollande to be first leader to visit region

French President Francois Hollande will on Friday begin a visit to Guinea, making him the first Western leader to travel to a country hit hard by the deadly Ebola virus. READ  

Foreign students worth €1.6 billion to France
International students are worth a lot of money to France. Photo:Tulane Public Relations/Flickr

Foreign students worth €1.6 billion to France

The tens of thousands of international students who come to France each year are giving the country’s economy a healthy boost, a new study has revealed. It's partly in thanks to all the money they shell out just to be able to afford to live here. READ  

French crooks boosted as wiretap firms strike
French phone tapping firms go on strike. Photo: Spying photo

French crooks boosted as wiretap firms strike

French criminals likely breathed a sigh of relief this week when the four firms that carry out most court-ordered phone wiretaps in France refused to take on any new jobs after a bitter dispute with the justice ministry. READ  

The Local List
Ten inventions you could curse the French for
Not every invention that has come out of France has been positive. Photo: Invention: Shutterstock

Ten inventions you could curse the French for

Some great inventions have come out of France over the years, not least the scented-flatulence pills, but there are also a fair few we think the world perhaps could have done without. Here's 10 creations you could curse the French for inventing. READ  

Pop-artist Koons opens Paris retrospective
US pop artist Jeff Koons gestures in front of his BMW Art Car decorated with exploding, multi-colored rays on June 2, 2010 during a press conference at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Photo: Fred Dufour

Pop-artist Koons opens Paris retrospective

The Pompidou Centre in Paris opened on Wednesday a major retrospective of the works of Jeff Koons, the controversial American master of kitsch and the world’s highest paid living artist. READ  

Europe takes France to task over disputed dam
Police clash with protesters at the disputed Sivens dam in south western France. Photo: Florine Galeorn/AFP

Europe takes France to task over disputed dam

The European Commission launched legal action against France on Wednesday over a controversial dam project that saw a young protester killed by a police grenade last month. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
Win a €250 voucher for your Christmas list
National
A pill to make flatulence smell like roses? A Frenchman has cracked it
Culture
Rare 400-year-old Shakespeare work found in northern France
National
Paris air pollution: 'It's like being in a room with eight smokers'
National
From infidelity to sexual needs: How French women have changed in 30 years
National
Billboards to be replaced by trees - the bold move by one French city
Gallery
French government gives 10 reasons to be proud: No. 1 - The Economy
Politics
France's 'first ladies': A look back at the other halves
National
Would background music make the RER in Paris feel safer?
Sponsored Article
Shop Christmas gifts at Debenhams international store
National
Trierweiler to break her silence... in the UK
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Winter is coming to the French Alps
Gallery
Don't confuse France with Paris: Here's ten reasons why
Sponsored Article
Live like a local - anywhere in the world
National
From the homeless to migrants: A portrait of modern France in ten stats
Culture
Are you brainy enough to be Miss France? Take the quiz
Gallery
France's most notorious celebrities. How many do you know?
Society
City of Love? Seven Paris myths debunked
Education
Why is France worst in the EU at English?
National
C'est pas possible! Paris is 'world's cheapest city for young people'
National
Looking to save space? France allows toilets in kitchens for first time
National
Find out how women in France are getting stung for a hidden tax
Culture
Which one is your favourite? The top 10 heartiest French winter dishes
Face Of The Week
Nabilla - 'France's Kim Kardashian' held for attempted murder
National
So who's scaring everyone by flying drones over France’s nuclear plants?
Education
Whoever thinks French was a dying language should read this
Politics
OPINION: 'One day France will be grateful to François Hollande'
Gallery
IN IMAGES: A history of France's most controversial architecture
National
How to make an 8-square-metre Paris apartment perfectly liveable
Gallery
VIDEO: France's raunchiest TV ads, including that infamous Perrier one
National
Five reasons why you should work a ski season in France and five not to
National
10 art exhibitions not to miss this autumn in Paris
Culture
What's on in France: 11 things to do this November
National
How French have you become? Take our quiz to find out
National
10 things to never say to a French person
National
Top 10: When French translations go wrong
National
Parisian bars that serve drinkers free meals
National
France falls to Germans in nude swim tourney
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Nowhere combines sex and art quite like France
National
Why you should never turn down an invitation to a French wedding
Sport
Discover the route of the 2015 Tour de France. There are a few surprises
Gallery
Ten changes that would make learning French so much easier
Culture
IN PICTURES: 'Glass ship' Vuitton ready to set sail in Paris
International
How a giant 'sex toy' earned an American artist a slap in Paris
National
'Unlike in the US the French don't put the blame on the poor'
Gallery
Cover up and don't be too Latin: French travel warnings for the US
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se