July 31, 2016: If you think skydiving is scary, try doing it from twice the usual height and without a parachute. After two minutes of free-fall, you must position yourself to land on a net less than half the size of a football field, spread out 200 feet above the earth.
On Saturday, Luke Aikins took that challenge. He was the first person ever to attempt a skydive with neither a parachute nor a wingsuit â€” and, in a featbroadcast live on Fox, the first ever to complete one.
Mr. Aikins began his dive at an altitude of 25,000 feet, just 4,000 feet short of the summit of Mount Everest. Viewers watched him plummet, legs and arms spread, stomach down. Around 18,000 feet, he removed his oxygen mask and passed it to one of the three parachuted assistants diving with him. He aimed for the center of the net, guided by GPS and lights. Seconds before impact, he flipped onto his back and landed safely in the California desert.
He lay cocooned in the net for a few moments, hands over his face. Then he clambered out, into the arms of his wife, Monica, with whom he has a 4-year-old son.
â€œWe did and cannot thank everyone enough for the support,â€ Mr. Aikins wrote on Facebook shortly after the jump. â€œMy vision was always proper preparation and that if you train right you can make anything happen. Thank you!!!!â€
The stunt, planned for two years, almost did not happen. At first, Mr. Aikins, 42, who has skydived 18,000 times since he was 12 years old, felt the idea was a bit much even for him.
â€œLike any normal, sane person, I said: â€˜Thank you, but no thank you. I have a wife and a son, and Iâ€™ve got a life to live,â€™â€ he told People magazine. â€œThen, two weeks went by and I kept waking up in the middle of the night thinking, â€˜If somebody said you had to do this, how could it be done?â€™â€
Then, just two days ago, SAG-Aftra, the screen actorsâ€™ union, issued a â€œdo not workâ€ order barring its members from taking part in the production unless Mr. Aikins agreed to wear a parachute â€” something that, Mr. Aikins said in the live broadcast, would actually make the jump more dangerous by adding weight to his body, thus increasing the force of the impact.
As Mr. Aikinsâ€™s plane approached the start point of his dive, 25,000 feet above Simi Valley, Calif., he strapped on the parachute but told viewers he would not open it. At the last minute, the union dropped its objection, and Mr. Aikins removed the parachute before jumping from the plane.
Mr. Aikinsâ€™s publicist, Peter Moran, did not respond to an emailed request for an interview with his client on Saturday evening. But speaking to reporters at the scene, Mr. Aikins was euphoric.
â€œIâ€™m almost levitating â€” itâ€™s incredible, this thing that just happened,â€ he told reporters after climbing out of the net, according to E! Online. â€œThe words I want to say, I canâ€™t even get out of my mouth.â€
ByÂ Maggie Astor