A leap in the park

A leap in the park
File photo of people flying in wingsuits.

From the peaks of Tianmen Mountain National Park in Hunan, China, they take a giant leap.

On their backs, a parachute. But it is there only to help with the landing and is deployed at the last possible moment.

So from the mountain, some 790m to the spot where they will land, which is about 1.2km away, all that keeps these daredevils from ending up as a splotch on the breathtaking landscape is a piece of fabric no larger than a blanket.

For members of the World Wingsuit League (WWL), this is just a leap in the park.

Between Oct 12 and Oct 20, 26 wingsuit pilots from a dozen countries gathered in Hunan's Zhangjiajie province for the Red Bull 2014 WWL China Grand Prix, where they competed to see who would be the fastest to complete the air sprint.

The rules are simple: Jump off a platform on the mountain; glide to the finish line as quickly as you can; deploy parachute; and survive.

To allow them to glide through the air, the pilots wear wingsuits, which have durable fabrics linking each limb like a giant wing and which allows them to reach speeds of more than 160kmh, reported the Daily Mail.

According to the WWL website, this year's participants were allowed to practise using the 2012 and 2013 race courses before heading into the qualifying race.


The eventual winner was South African pilot Julian Boulle, who also won the 2012 edition of the competition.

He beat Venezuelan Jhonathan Florez, the defending champion, in the final race, leading by two body lengths.

"Julian had slow starts in each of his previous head-to-head races," race director Iiro Seppanen told WWL's news crew.

"So everyone was surprised when he got off so well. We checked to make sure he didn't leave early, but he didn't; he had a perfect launch."

The fight for third and fourth place was between Norwegian Espen Fadnes and American Noah Bahnson and it was much closer, with the former coming in 2/100th of a second ahead of the other.

Said Mr Seppanen: "Make no mistake about it. Wingsuit racers are elite athletes and the differences between winning and losing are razor-thin. It also speaks to the mental toughness of WWL athletes..."

This sport is not for the faint-hearted.

At last year's event at the same location, Hungarian wingsuit pilot Victor Kovats died after his parachute failed to deploy during a practice flight.

Earlier, this month, a US wingsuit pilot died after hitting a cliff while jumping in the Swiss Alps, reported AP.

This article was first published on Oct 24, 2014.
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