Profile: Skydiver Felix Baumgartner

Pilot Felix Baumgartner sits in his capsule prior to the final manned flight of Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico, in this October 9, 2012 handout photo.
Image caption Austrian Felix Baumgartner has set skydiving and Base-jumping records from Malaysia to Brazil

Felix Baumgartner has made history by breaking the world record for the highest-ever skydive, jumping from a balloon more than 39km (128,000 ft) up in the stratosphere.

The daredevil skydiver and helicopter pilot has made a career out of pushing the boundaries of human flight, always seeking to go faster, higher, further.

Born in Salzburg, Austria, in 1969, he began skydiving when he was 16, polishing his aero-acrobatic skills in the Austrian military's demonstration and competition team.

In the 1990s, he moved from traditional skydiving to Base jumping, leaping off fixed objects and using a parachute to break the fall. The acronym stands for the categories of fixed objects aficionados can jump from: buildings, antennas, spans (bridges) and earth (cliffs, mountains).

There followed a series of high-profile jumps off very famous - and often very dangerous - landmarks.

Highs and lows

In 1999, he set the world record for the highest parachute jump from a building when he jumped from the Petronas Towers in Kaula Lumpur, Malaysia.

The twin skyscrapers were the tallest buildings in the world at the time, only overtaken by the Taipei 101 in 2004. Naturally, in 2007, he also jumped off the Taipei 101.

Image caption After jumping off the world's highest building in 1999, he went to Rio the same year for the world's lowest ever Base jump

For his next stunt, he went to the opposite end of the scale, completing the world's lowest ever base jump from the 30m-high arm of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.

At the time, the organiser of that jump, Stefan Aufschnaiter, described Baumgartner as "the craziest base jumper in the world".

"Normally, you need 50m or 60m. It's extremely dangerous," he said.

Having survived that leap, placing flowers on the statue's shoulder first as a sign of respect, he went on to become the first person to literally fly across the English Channel in 2003.

Using a pair of specially-made carbon fibre wings, Baumgartner leapt from a plane above Dover, landing 22 miles (35km) away in Cap Blanc-Nez near Calais just 14 minutes later.

"You're totally alone, there's just you, your equipment, your wing - and your skills. I like it," he said.

'Big accomplishment'

The former mechanic goes through a rigorous training programme before all his flights, which are sponsored by Red Bull. For the Channel glide, he strapped himself to the top of a speeding Porsche.

Image caption The 43-year-old trains intensively before his skydives

Despite the training, the jumps and dives remain highly dangerous.

Baumgartner's mother could be seen at the site of his "space dive" in New Mexico wiping away tears, unable to avert her gaze from the skies her son would soon come tumbling out of.

Along with his father and brother, she had travelled to see him complete his most daring stunt yet, the first time they had ever been out of Europe.

He says he is motivated in part by scientific endeavour, the desire to see what the human body can achieve. But Baumgartner is also spurred on by the desire to see what no-one else has seen, to be alone at the highest reaches of the skies.

"It's almost overwhelming," he told the BBC of an earlier test jump. "When you're standing there in a pressure suit, the only thing that you hear is yourself breathing, and you can see the curvature of the Earth; you can see the sky's totally black.

"It's kind of an awkward view because you've never seen a black sky. And at that moment, you realise you've accomplished something really big."

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