• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

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.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Saudi princess 'told guard to kill Paris decorator'
Photo: Eurovizion/Flickr

"You have to kill this dog, he doesn't deserve to live," the princess allegedly said.

Paying for sex in France: Has the new law been effective?

Around 40 sex buyers are caught each month across the whole of France. Does that sound like much?

Only in France: 'Drive slowly - grape juice on the roads'
Photo: Rexness/Flickr

You know you're in France when...

France gives lift off to tough new drone laws
Photo: AFP

Time to crack down on drones, say French lawmakers.

Bienvenue en France: France cuts red tape for UK firms
Photo: AFP

France is ready to roll out the red carpet for UK firms quitting Britain because of Brexit fears.

VIDEO: Is life on a French café terrace really this bad?
Photo: Canal Plus

Bird poo, bums and butts: Is life on les terraces really as bad as this?

'Five terror plots thwarted' on Riviera since Nice attack
A police boat patrols the waters off the beach in Nice during the summer. Photo: AFP

Authorities in Nice say five potentially deadly terror plots on the French Riviera have been foiled since the Bastille Day truck attack in the resort.

IN PICTURES
French firefighters calendar to provoke global palpitations
Photo: Fred Goudon

Warning: Some readers may suffer palpitations, sweats or other side-effects when reading this story.

Why Paris beach festival could be sand-free in future
Photo: AFP

Is a beach with no sand still a beach?

Lost without translation: The struggles of Calais migrants
Communication problems in the Calais jungle camp. Photo: AFP

So many languages are spoken in the Calais jungle migrant camp but French is rarely heard.

Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Culture
The crazy French writing phrases you can't get your head around
Features
Room for improvement: Paris's matchbox apartments
'Stop telling immigrants to be French and help it happen'
Society
Take the test: How far have you assimilated into French culture?
Lifestyle
Eleven things you should know before moving to Paris
National
France's Marion Cotillard rebuffs rumours of fling with Brad Pitt
National
Eight arrested over links to Nice truck attacker
Features
Why everyone should party in a French chateau at least once
Travel
The Frenchman who hated 'Nazi-Zealand' after four-day hitch-hike fail
Culture
What's on: Ten exciting events across France in September
The 45-million year old underground shells that flavour Champagne
Features
French job speak: All the terms you need to know
'Resilient' Paris now a more appealing city than New York
National
France says it's OK to warn drivers about speed cameras
Meet Honorine, 113, the oldest person in France
Education
Grenoble named France's best city to be a student
Society
New Metro map reveals cheapest pints of beer in Paris
Business & Money
How reliant is the French economy on Paris?
Society
Here's why Parisians want to move to Bordeaux
And the 'best place to spend a weekend in Europe' is… Lyon
Analysis & Opinion
'Muslims in France must be considered ordinary citizens'
Armed guards to ride French trains from October
National
France among Europe's priciest for train travel
2,731
jobs available