A US skydiver with more than 18,000 jumps to his credit has made history, becoming the first person to leap without a parachute and land in a net instead.
After a 7600-metre free fall lasting two minutes, Luke Aikins, 42, landed dead centre in the 30-by-30-metre net at the Big Sky movie ranch on the outskirts of Simi Valley on Saturday.
As cheers erupted, Aikins quickly climbed out, walked over and hugged his wife, Monica, who had been watching from the ground with their four-year-old son, Logan, and other family members.
“I’m almost levitating, it’s incredible,” the jubilant skydiver said, raising his hands over his head.
“This thing just happened! I can’t even get the words out of my mouth,” he added as he thanked the dozens of crew members who spent two years helping him prepare for the jump, including those who assembled the fishing trawler-like net and made sure it really worked.
“All of these guys, everything that made it happen … It’s awesome,” he added.
The stunt, broadcast live on the Fox network for the TV special Stride Gum Presents Heaven Sent, nearly didn’t come off as planned when Aikins revealed just before climbing into his plane that the Screen Actors Guild had ordered him to wear a parachute to ensure his safety.
A few minutes before the jump, one of the show’s hosts said the requirement had been lifted.
Aikins left the plane without the chute.
He admitted before the jump he was nervous and his mother said she was one family member who wouldn’t watch.
“My whole life has been about air, aviation, flying, jumping, all that stuff,” said Aikins, a third-generation skydiver, during a television interview with Fox.
“I’m out here to show that there are ways to do things that people think are insane and aren’t able to be done,” he said.
“Pay attention to the science and the maths behind this. And we’ll show you what’s possible,” he added.
The landing target, dubbed the “fly trap” took six months to make and was about one-third the size of a football field.
It was constructed from Spectra, a high-density polyethylene cord twice as strong as steel.
However, the net was not invincible. During a trial run, one of the 91-kilogram test dummies did not bounce out, but crashed right through.
To survive his plummet to earth, Aikins was required to roll and tuck his chin one second before impact, ensuring that he would land on his back.
He was guided by a GPS and four specialised lights to make sure that he was on track to land in the netting.
“If I wasn’t [nervous] I’d be silly, and I shouldn’t do it,” Aikins admitted.
“We’re talking about jumping without a parachute, and I take that very seriously. It’s not a joke,” he added.
The daredevil made his first tandem jump when he was 12, following with his first solo leap four years later.
He’s been racking them up at several hundred a year ever since.
In all those years, he needed to use his emergency chute on 30 occasions.
Aikins is a third-generation skydiver whose grandfather co-founded the skydiving school after returning from World War II.
His wife is also a keen skydiver, having made 2000 jumps.