Skydiving is one of those activities so hazardous as to void your life insurance and encourage friends and family to question your sense of longevity.
Actually, it’s not that dangerous compared to, say, driving a car, but when skydiving goes wrong, it goes completely wrong, so its all-or-nothing proposition for survival tends to strike a nerve among the risk-averse. Me, I’ll never do it, after hearing a story from my friend who runs a banner-plane service. One day while flying, he watched a skydiver with a failed chute hurtle past his plane. He’ll never go skydiving after that — and this is a guy who flies for a living.
Hang-gliding is actually way more dangerous than skydiving, with a reported fatality rate of one in every 2,000 flights. If you imagine that you’ll be in a fatal car crash once out of every 2,000 trips, I’d imagine you’d become a proponent of mass transit pretty quickly.
And then there is wingsuit flying, which makes skydiving and hang-gliding look like a game of canasta. Wingsuits are a kind of wearable parachute with big membranes between your arms and legs that essentially turn you into a flying squirrel. They are used most commonly by BASE jumpers (parachutists who specialize in jumping off of things like buildings and bridges) who use the suits to glide as they fall. The result is a zooming kind of flight, where daredevils in the sport hug the ground at insanely low and insanely dangerous altitudes. It’s the sort of sport that has to be seen to be believed.
Wingsuit flying made the news recently as the World Wingsuit League held its annual championships in China. The contest was a kind of timed slalom as wingsuiters flew past certain objectives as fast and as close as they could. As the world’s top flyers gathered, the week before the championships was filled with lots of test runs and publicity stunts. One of the world’s leading wingsuiters, a BASE jumper named Jeb Corliss, performed a move called the “Flying Dagger,” where he zoomed through two pillars of rock less than 20m apart from each other in what is probably the most dangerous wingsuit stunt executed to date.