Imagine jumping from an airplane, feeling the wind against your body as you plummet to the earth. It must be an incredibly liberating feeling…unless you don’t happen to have a parachute on your back.
For Luke Aikins, falling from the sky for two minutes as he aims for a 100-x-100-foot net suspended 200 feet above the ground was a challenge he found irresistible and, on Saturday, it was a challenge he conquered. Aikins became the first person to try to skydive without a chute or wingsuit in a daring feat that was shown live on Fox. Although others have made chute-free dives, they were either grabbing a partner who was wearing a chute during descent or putting one on after jumping from the plane.
Aikins, 42, jumped toward the California desert from 25,000 feet; at about 18,000 feet, he took off his oxygen mask and, with help from GPS and lights, focused on the fast-approaching target at the center of the net. Seconds before impact, the veteran of about 18,000 jumps flipped onto his back and landed uneventfully as viewers collectively exhaled.
“We did and cannot thank everyone enough for the support,” Aikins, a husband and father of a 4-year-old boy, wrote on Facebook shortly after his successful landing. “My vision was always proper preparation and that if you train right you can make anything happen. Thank you!!!!”
The event nearly did not come off. SAG-Atra, the screen actors’ union, initially opposed the jump, insisting that Aikins wear a chute. That, he argued, would have made the jump more dangerous by increasing his weight and velocity. The union ultimately dropped its objection and he dropped his parachute in the plane.
“I’m almost levitating — it’s incredible, this thing that just happened,” he said after he climbed out of the net (via E!). “The words I want to say, I can’t even get out of my mouth. Baba booey.”
Yes, he sneaked in a Howard Stern reference.
This wasn’t some wacky jump, though. Aikins and his team planned it precisely, with lights strong enough to be visible at 25,000 feet and capable of changing color if he is off-target.
“I won’t just be guessing when I jump out at 25,000 feet,” Aikins told People.com. “I’ll know exactly where I need to go.”
It was perfect. Nothing but net.