A professional skydiver leapt into a colossal net from a height of 4.7 miles (7.6 km) in Simi Valley, southern California recently. Luke Aikins, the skydiver, was neither wearing a wingsuit nor a parachute when he jumped from a plane into the 100 by 100 feet wide mesh, suspended about 200 feet above the earth’s surface with the support of four poles.
The fall was accomplished in the event Heaven Sent, a publicity stunt for the Stride Gum and organized by Mondelez International. Regarding the event, the team psychologist Michael Gervais remarked, “The truth is all we get to control is our mind and our body, that this is absolutely pushing the limits of what’s possible.”
Aikins is the first person to jump from this behemoth of an altitude without the safety of a parachute or the control of a wingsuit, maneuvering towards the net using solely aerodynamics of his bare body. Aikins, who’s no spring chicken, is aged 42, has already made 18,000 jumps and belongs to a family with a history of skydiving. That background is exactly why he knew what he was getting into. At first even he refused to do so. With a wife and a child, any sane man would do the same.
Health Risks Associated With The Jump
The hazards associated with falls from a high altitude without special equipment need no mention. But at that extreme height and speed, wind currents start to behave in a funny manner, with not-so-funny effects on the diver. Imagine a person falling with a speed of 125 mph and trying to target a mere 100 x 100 feet wide an area, using exclusively the drag resulting from his body to aim. Simultaneously, wind resistance was active to full effect. Targeting a spot barely visible from that height (4.7 miles) is not made any easier by having the stress of a near-death experience.
Moreover, the jump was made near the elevation of the Death Zone, which expands at 8,000 meters and above the sea level. Dubbed by mountain climbers, the Death Zone is the height where air pressure drops so low that humans can’t get enough of oxygen to stay conscious for more than a few minutes. Usually by the time people regain consciousness at the Death Zone, they are unable to make sound judgement and have a difficulty reaching a decision due to oxygen starvation (formally called hypoxia).
Nonetheless, Luke Aikins made the jump. The reason he says was his confidence in the expertise level of his team, the team wasn’t made out of some random daredevils looking for novel ways to die. The Director for Skydive Chicago remarked, “But when you see the time and effort and research that went into making it safe, it wasn’t reckless, it was well thought out.” The team had researched and practiced for the fall thoroughly.
What The Diver Did To Avoid Hypoxia And Other Health Risks
Aikins was wearing auxiliary oxygen supply during the fall to ward off any chances of getting hypoxia. Inventively, the team put lights on top of the “fly trap” (as the team calls the net) to make it visibly to the descending fearless pioneer. These are just two of the contingencies the team prepared for the occasion.
Though a stunt, Luke Aikins hopes that the move will inspire people to look into the science behind skydiving, as there were plenty of calculations that went into the preparation of this jump. Fortunately for him, the magnitude of the hype and the excitement is surely going to prove this fall an impetus for the next generation of skydivers.
The risk factor of any such stunt almost always makes it more appealing to the audience, and the risk here was more than standard skydiving. In Sweden the chances of a skydiver dying in a particular dive are 1 to 100,000, equal to that of a mother dying due to childbirth in Sweden.
The terminal velocity of an average human being is 118 mph, that’s around the speed a skydiver smashes with the earth if his parachute doesn’t open, consequently dying instantly. Outrageously, the new hero Luke Aikins was also travelling with about the same speed as terminal velocity, any little mistake on his part would have proved to be his undoing.
That is precisely what the team was aiming at here, a show of mental and physical perseverance previously thought of as unmanageable and uncontrollable. Psychologist Michael Gervais nicely summed up the effort: “Those that are pushing into territories yet to be conquered, we need them, we need them to tell us what’s possible and truly explore what’s not yet known.”