• Sports

Tragic Stories of Wingsuit Deaths

Wingsuit jumping is an even more dangerous offshoot of the already dangerous sport of BASE jumping. The jumper wears a specially made suit designed to inflate after they jump out of a helicopter or airplane, and they theoretically glide down to the earth.The suit provides enough lift to significantly slow descent, and allows the flyer to achieve forward momentum, though it's extremely difficult to control. As a precaution, jumpers carry at least one, and usually two parachutes with them.

While various experimental suits were invented in the '60s and '70s, the modern wingsuit is attributed to French skydiving legend Patrick de Gayardon, who invented and flew the first suit - and died demonstrating the technology in 1998. Since then, more jumpers have embraced wingsuiting as the ultimate adventure sport, and many have died from accidents, parachute failures, and unforeseen problems with jump trajectories.

Between 1982 and 2012, over 50 wingsuit jumpers were killed, and that number has only increased as less-experienced fliers try the sport. Here are some of the most prominent deaths in the sport, including well-known BASE jumpers like Dean Potter and Ian Flanders, stuntmen, and extreme athletes.
  • Gerard Masselin

    In what was probably the first wingsuit death in history, on September 3, 1963, French stunt parachutist Gerard Masselin jumped from a biplane over Paris, attempting to demonstrate new flying suit technology to a British film crew. Unfortunately, his parachute failed to open and he fell to his death – with the camera rolling the whole time. Two years earlier, Masselin’s older brother Guy died in a parachuting accident that Gerard witnessed.
  • Patrick de Gayardon

    The inventor of the modern wingsuit, de Gayardon held a press conference on October 31, 1997, showing off a new wingsuit with an unparalleled record of safety and performance. Less than a year later, he fell to his death over Hawaii while testing a modification to the suit. His death was attributed to a rigging error in the his parachute lines, and neither his primary or reserve chute was able to open.
  • Dwain Weston

    Weston, an Australian skydiver and holder of the 2002 BASE jumping world title, died on October 3, 2003, after hitting a railing on the Royal Gorge Bridge near Cañon City, Colorado. His chute hadn’t deployed and he hit the bridge, cutting his body in half. His helmet camera filmed the entire incident, and the footage ended up on the Internet.
  • Geoffrey Robson

    Robson was a PhD candidate at ETH Zürich working on the mathematical modeling of the aerodynamic characteristics of wingsuits. In April 2010, Robson died during a wingsuit BASE jump off a cliff outside Stellenbosch, South Africa. He had meticulously calculated his flight path, but a gust of wind blew him into a ridge line, where he died instantly.