Italian-Norwegian BASE jumper Alexander Polli, 31, died Monday after crashing into a tree at an altitude of nearly 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) near Chamonix, France. He had been flying near the Couloir Ensa, a challenging descent popular with top-level wingsuiters.
Polli’s death was the second tragedy in the wingsuit community in less than a week. On August 17, Italian wingsuiter Uli Emanuele, 29, crashed during a flight in the Dolomites in the Italian Alps.
Wingsuiting demands an extreme level of skill and commitment from its athletes, and its high fatality rate leads some to call it the world's most dangerous sport. In 2013, Mario Richard hit a cliff while wingsuiting in the Dolomites in Italy, and last year, Dean Potter and Graham Hunt died in a BASE jumping accident in Yosemite National Park.
Polli was best known for flying in close proximity to rock walls and shooting through narrow spaces at more than 150 miles (240 kilometers) per hour, including his famed “Batman Cave” flight in Spain’s Roca Foradada Mountains in 2013.
"Alexander Polli was revolutionary in the sport of wingsuit flying. His skill level and commitment was incredible. Flying through the hole in Spain was such a bold and skillful stunt," says ice climber and former BASE jumper Tim Emmett.
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Like Polli, Emanuele was also famous for zooming through natural openings in mountains. In 2015, he completed a flight that some consider the most technically daring maneuver in the sport’s history: clearing an 8.5-foot (2.6-meter) slit in a rock outcropping.
On Facebook, the World Wingsuit League praised Polli’s “free spirit energy and contagious laughter,” and called Emanuele “a beautiful human being” with “exceptional talent.”
"Wingsuit flying is more fun the closer you get to objects," Emmett says. "It's like playing with the devil: so much excitement, but often tragedy too."