In 1997 Patrick de Gayardon donned a webbed nylon suit and leaped, it’s believed, from Norway’s Kjerag mountain. The rush of air inflated the suit’s three wings, allowing him to glide. This first modern wingsuit transformed BASE jumping: named for launch points building, antenna, span (bridge), and earth.
Previously, BASE jumpers descended vertically with parachutes. In wingsuits pilots can perform daring horizontal stunts such as flying through rings of fire and narrow rock formations.
But wingsuit pilots are much more likely to die. The first recorded fatality from a wingsuit BASE jump was in 2002; it has since become one of the world’s most lethal sports. “You feel you have absolute control over what you’re doing—that’s what’s become such a killer,” says Jeb Corliss, who has been jumping for nearly 20 years. “We are not birds. We are not flying. We are falling toward the ground at incredible speed, and if you do something wrong, you can die.”