Skydiver safely jumps from stratosphere over New Mexico

Mon Oct 15, 2012 3:48pm EDT
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By Zelie Pollon

ROSWELL, New Mexico (Reuters) - An Austrian daredevil leapt into the stratosphere from a balloon near the edge of space 24 miles above Earth on Sunday and safely landed, setting a record for the highest skydive and breaking the sound barrier in the process.

Cheers broke out as Felix Baumgartner, 43, jumped from a skateboard-sized shelf outside the 11-by-8-foot (3.3-by-2.4 meter) fiberglass and acrylic capsule that was carried higher than 128,000 feet by an enormous balloon.

"We love you Felix!" screamed the crowd gathered in a mission control setting at his launch site in Roswell, New Mexico as more than 8 million people watched his feat online.

Baumgartner's body pierced the atmosphere at 833.9 miles per hour, according to preliminary numbers released by Brian Utley, the certification official for the Federation Aeronautic International, at a press conference afterward.

Baumgartner's speed clinched one of his goals: to become the first skydiver to break the sound barrier, typically measured at more than 690 mph. And he did so on the 65th anniversary of legendary American pilot Chuck Yeager's flight shattering the sound barrier on October 14, 1947.

Utley said preliminary figures indicate Baumgartner broke a total of three established world records, including the highest altitude skydive, longest freefall without a parachute and fastest fall achieved during a skydive.

Baumgartner landed safely on the ground and raised his arms in a victory salute just 10 minutes after he stepped into the air. Soon he was hugged by his mother and father, who took their first trip outside Europe to see his historic plunge, and his girlfriend jumped up and wrapped her legs around him.

"It was way harder than I expected," Baumgartner said. Recalling his final words before he stepped into the stratosphere, he said, "Sometimes you have to get up really high to know how small you are."   Continued...

Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria is seen on a screen at mission control center in the capsule during the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico, in this October 14, 2012 handout photo. REUTERS/ Stefan Aufschnaiter/Red Bull Content Pool /Handout