• 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
Updated: 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)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Ten bizarre facts about French Parliament
Here's ten interesting and funny things you didn't now aboute France's National Assembly. Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP

Ten bizarre facts about French Parliament

As Friday is the official start of summer holiday for members of French parliament, The Local has decided to have a little fun with them and has brought you 10 bizarre facts about its National Assembly. They're good for a laugh, but you also might learn something. READ  

Top Parisian tourist spots could open 7/7
Some of Paris's top tourist spots may stay open seven days a week. Photo: Ironypoisoning/Flickr

Top Parisian tourist spots could open 7/7

Three of Paris’s main tourist attractions, the Louvre museum, the Musée d’Orsay and the Palace of Versailles, may soon stay open seven days a week in a bid to accommodate more visitors amid dwindling subsidies. READ  

Live updates
LIVE: No survivors in Air Algérie crash
The wreckage of an Air Algerie plane has been found in northern Mali. Photo: Farouk Batiche/AFP

LIVE: No survivors in Air Algérie crash

France's president says there were no survivors of the Air Algerie crash in Africa, at the same time French authorities are ruling out the possibility the jet was shot down, saying bad weather is thus far the apparent cause. READ  

Plane with 51 French on board 'crashes in Mali'
The latest map released by officials in Burkina Faso, showing the presumed site where the plane is believed to have come down. Photo: Airport of Ougadougou

Plane with 51 French on board 'crashes in Mali'

An Air Algérie-operated flight carrying 116 people on board, including 51 French nationals, is believed to have crashed in Mali on Thursday. There have been unconfirmed reports that the wreckage of the plane has been found. READ  

French cops find arsenal on London-bound bus
French border police find an arsenal of weapons on board a Eurolines bus. Photo: Sludge Gulper/FLickr

French cops find arsenal on London-bound bus

French border police seized a small arsenal of firearms and ammunition they found stowed aboard a bus that was passing through France on its way to London, French media reported on Thursday. Officers are still looking for the owner of the weapons. READ  

France is among EU's biggest public spenders
France is one of Europe's biggest spenders, but its not getting great services. Photo: Pascal Pavani/AFP

France is among EU's biggest public spenders

The French government is the third biggest public spender in Europe, yet the quality of the health, pension and education services its paying for are significantly lower than other EU countries. A new government study explains why. READ  

Gaza crisis
France to release €11m in aid for Palestinians
An injured Palestinian is rushed to hospital in Gaza for treatment. Photo: Mahmud Hams/AFP

France to release €11m in aid for Palestinians

BREAKING NEWS: France is to hand over €11 million worth of aid for Palestinians in Gaza, President François Hollande announced on Thursday morning after meeting with several NG0s at the Elysée Palace. READ  

Report - Jobs for robots
'Half of jobs in France' under threat from robots
Half of the jobs in France could soon be carried out by robots. Better think about retraining. Shutterstock

'Half of jobs in France' under threat from robots

It might be a good time to think about a career change, because according to a report from a leading Brussels think-tank, half of the jobs currently being done in France could be taken over by robots in the next 20 years. READ  

Tête-à-tête - Part 2
'Foreigners pay taxes so they should get the vote'
"This is not about halal meat in schools, it's about democracy" Should non-EU foreigners get the right to vote in France? Photo: Marc Lagneau/Flickr

'Foreigners pay taxes so they should get the vote'

In the second part of our tête-a-tête on whether foreigners in France should be given the vote, we hear from one of the leaders of the campaign calling for it to happen, who insists "it's about democracy, not bringing in halal meals in schools". READ  

IN IMAGES: Paris protest in support of Palestinians
Members of a Jewish anti-zionist group joined protesters on Wednesday to call for an end to Israel's offensive in Gaza. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard

IN IMAGES: Paris protest in support of Palestinians

Up to 25,000 demonstrators marched through the streets of Paris on Wednesday to protest against the Israeli offensive in Gaza. Here's a selection of images from the rally, that took place amid tight security. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Why you should think twice about feeding stray cats in France
National
And the new redrawn map of France will look like...?
Politics
Is French President François Hollande about to tie the knot?
International
Want a long-term visa? You may soon have to take a French test
International
Votes for foreigners: 'France would be giving up its sovereignty'
National
VIDEO: Stuntman jumps onto a moving Paris metro... and survives
Gallery
Forget 'faire l'amour', here's 15 top French expressions for making love
National
Report - 'Anti-Semitic' riots in France: 'We may leave for Israel'
National
Paris Plages: Here's 10 reasons to head down to the city beach
International
'Mont Blanc is like Disneyland. It's time to end the free-for-all'
Travel
Fancy climbing Mont Blanc? Here's 10 reasons to think twice about it
Gallery
Looking for a weird museum in Paris? Here's 10 that are worth a visit
National
Clear your head: Eight tips for buying wine in a French supermarket
National
'Don't blame the labour market for France's unemployment woes!'
National
Job applicants in France: Be prepared to send in an anonymous CV
Sport
'Bouligans' to booze bans: Ten things you need to know about pétanque
Gallery
Driving in France: How to stay out of trouble on the roads
Travel
Ten essential free phone apps for a visit to Paris
Gallery
Like cycling? Love France? See the top ten best cycling routes in France
International
'They think beer is a vegetable': What the French really think of Germans
National
Sarkozy's dream of a 2017 comeback is not dead yet
Gallery
Ten reasons why France is better than Germany (we're not talking football)
Gallery
Paris in Summer: Ten things to do on a shoestring
Sponsored Article
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
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