When This Russian Guy Took Flight From Everest, He Aimed To Make The Highest Base Jump In History

During his lifetime, Valery Rozov was one of the most experienced BASE jumpers in the entire world. But being the daredevil he was meant that the Russian sportsman constantly pushed the boundaries of what was possible. In 2013, for instance, Rozov embarked on his biggest challenge yet: leaping off the edge of Mount Everest in an epic world record attempt. And even this professional risk-taker could not have predicted what happened next.

To fully appreciate Rozov’s insane activities, though, it’s worth delving a bit deeper into the world of BASE jumping. So what is it all about? Well, BASE jumping is an extreme sport that involves parachuting – or flying with a wingsuit – from a permanent structure. The word “BASE” is in fact an acronym that represents the words building, antenna, span and earth. These form the four main categories from which people jump when participating in the sport. The stunt has its roots in skydiving, of course, but it tends to involve lower altitudes.

Interestingly, though, the limited altitudes involved in BASE jumping actually make it more dangerous than skydiving. That’s because falling from a greater distance creates higher air-speeds, which in turn gives jumpers better control over their bodies. BASE jumpers are more prone to tumbling, too, and this can negatively affect the deployment of their parachutes.

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Yet despite the dangers, people continue to BASE jump just for the thrill of it – and they have done for a long time. In fact, the first recorded example of something similar taking place dates from 1617. It was then that Fausto Veranzio tested what’s believed to be the first parachute when he jumped off the bell tower of Italy’s St Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

A few centuries later – in 1912 to be precise – French parachute enthusiast and tailor Franz Reichelt decided to test the coat parachute he’d designed by jumping from the first level of Paris’ Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, though, his invention failed – and Reichelt fell to his death. The authorities and the people who witnessed the stunt initially believed that the daredevil was testing a dummy, so we can only imagine their shock when the terrifying scene unfolded.

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Not all BASE jumps back then were unsuccessful, however. Two days before Reichelt’s tragic death, for instance, Frederick R. Law – a steeplejack from the U.S. – jumped from the top of the Statue of Liberty’s torch and parachuted a distance of 305 feet to the ground. Law lived to tell the tale, too, and it was later reported that he’d completed the stunt on a total whim.

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And given New York’s glut of skyscrapers, the city has persisted as a popular BASE jumping spot. One such jumper was Owen J. Quinn. He actually gained fame in 1975 when he parachuted from the World Trade Center’s south tower in New York. A reported parachuting fanatic, Quinn apparently only took a job in the building after realizing its potential as a BASE jumping location.

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In order to pull off the stunt, you see, Quinn needed to sneak to the top of the tower. He also had to hide his parachute. This feat was accomplished with the help of his friend Mike Sergio. And Sergio even managed to later capture on camera the moment that Quinn ran off the roof of the building. The resulting picture is simply awe-inspiring – but the BASE jumper came back down to earth with a figurative bump.

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In fact, after Quinn had landed his jump safely, he was arrested and sent for psychiatric assessments at two separate hospitals. And even after doctors confirmed his sanity, the daredevil was charged with reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct and trespassing. Nearly 20 court appearances later, though, Quinn finally saw the case against him dropped.

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Yet while these early examples shared the same principles as BASE jumping, the sport as we know it today actually began in 1978. The godfather of this new movement was Carl Boenish – a filmmaker who helped to popularize the activity among parachutists. Boenish was also the first person to document free-fall tracking methods and the use of ram-air parachutes.

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Given Boenish’s influence on the sport, then, it’s perhaps unsurprising that he later became one of the first BASE jumping poster boys. The jumper even made films on the activity and appeared in magazines – all the while participating in a number of adrenaline-inducing falls himself. The enthusiast’s greatest passion would ultimately prove to be his downfall, though.

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In 1984, at the age of 43, Boenish became the first person to jump from the Stabben peak in Norway’s Trolltindane mountain range. But unfortunately, the jump was unsuccessful; Boenish collided with a mountain face and died as a result. Yet while this daredevil’s life was cut short, his legacy has lived on.

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One of the more famous BASE jumpers to follow in Boenish’s footsteps is, for instance, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner. And over his decorated BASE jumping career, Baumgartner has set the record for the lowest ever jump. This involved him plummeting just 95 feet from Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue. Baumgartner also jumped from Sweden’s Turning Torso in Malmö – straight after landing a skydive onto the building. Other high-rise sights he has fallen from include Taiwan’s Taipei 101 and France’s Millau Viaduct.

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Another famous BASE jumper is Jeb Corliss. And like Baumgartner, Corliss has also conducted stunts on the statue of Christ the Redeemer. The risk-taker has additionally jumped from the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia, the Space Needle in Seattle and the Eiffel Tower in Paris too. Yet while Corliss has enjoyed a series of successes, his career has not been without injury.

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In fact, Corliss almost died in 1999 during a jump into South Africa’s Howick Falls when he flew into the cascading water. And in 2003 the daredevil saw his best friend, Dwain Weston, die during a failed synchronized flight around Colorado’s Royal Gorge Bridge. Then, in 2012, Corliss suffered a series of injuries after colliding with Table Mountain in South Africa while on a stunt.

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Despite these close shaves, though, Corliss continues to BASE jump and seemingly constantly seeks bigger thrills through more dangerous maneuvers. In 2013, for instance, Corliss attempted one of his most dangerous jumps yet. This saw him being ejected out of a helicopter and flying through a narrow gap in Mount Jianglang, China.

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Fortunately, Corliss somehow pulled off the jump – nicknamed the “flying dagger” – but later admitted just how terrified he’d been. In 2013 he told NBC News, “I have never experienced anything so hardcore. Period. I have not been that scared in my life. It was so powerful and overwhelming. I started crying.”

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So it seems that if all BASE jumpers are like Corliss, the more dangerous the stunt, the more exciting it is. So perhaps that’s why Russian daredevil Valery Rozov decided in 2013 to attempt the BASE jumping world record from Earth’s highest peak: Mount Everest. And make no mistake about it: despite Rozov having more than 10,000 jumps under his belt, the feat would still be incredibly difficult to complete.

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And what a career he’s had. Rozov – born in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod in December 1964 – has actually been a world champion skydiver twice over. But it was actually when he combined his passion for scaling mountains with his fondness of falling from great heights that Rozov really took off as a BASE jumper.

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You see, the daredevil then set out on a series of breathtaking jumps from some of the planet’s most impressive peaks. Rosov in fact completed one of his most spectacular stunts in 2009 – when he leapt into an active volcano in Far East Russia. He also jumped off Ulvetanna Peak in Antarctica in 2010.

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Everest was an altogether new challenge, though. So before tackling the mountain, Rozov trained for two long years. And a good chunk of this time was spent working on a specialist wingsuit – one that would enable the stuntman to glide in the thin air surrounding the mountain. The daredevil would need to prepare himself for the four-day trek to the mountain’s jump location too.

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With preparations underway, then, Rozov and his sponsor, Red Bull, announced that the record-breaking attempt would coincide with the 60th anniversary of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary’s first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953. So the date of the stunt was set for May 5, 2013. First, though, the daredevil and his team would need to actually scale the mountain first.

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So Rozov, a team of photographers and a camera crew arrived in the Himalayas three weeks prior to the BASE jump. And with the help of four sherpas, the group ascended Everest on its north side. The team in fact climbed to an altitude of 23,687 feet above sea level – to a site that would provide the epic location of the stunt.

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In 2013 Red Bull posted a video of the expedition on its YouTube channel. And in the film, Rozov made his reservations about the risky jump known on camera. “I think [the] Everest jump, it’s difficult because it’s [a] totally unknown area for me. This altitude [is] totally unknown,” the seasoned daredevil mused.

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The first part of Rozov’s stunt, though, involved the daredevil and his team simply acclimatizing to the harsh conditions on Everest. “You can [get to] Base Camp quite fast, quite quickly, from Kathmandu. But we spent five days on our way to the base camp,” the stuntman revealed in the video, referring to the time they spent getting used to the barren environment.

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Some of Rozov’s reservations were shared by members of his team too. In the Red Bull clip, one of them said, “I’ve been on many expeditions with [Rozov] all over the world. But now we’re here on Everest, the highest mountain in the world, which is completely different. We have super strong winds, cold temperatures, extreme conditions [that] are going to make it a tough project.”

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Then another team member explained, “We are really restricted in timing. It’s getting [Rozov] up to 24,606 feet [in] the shortest space of time. Normally it takes us four or five weeks to get acclimatized to that height, but we only have three weeks. So it’s really keeping the team strong, keeping the team healthy and getting that acclimatization [to happen] as fast as possible.”

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But getting to the jump location in good time was just the start of Rozov’s challenge. The Red Bull website explained that the first few moments of his jump would be the most critical. Why? Because that was then the air would be at its thinnest. So the daredevil would have to free-fall for a longer period of time in order to transition to flying status.

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When the time came, though, Rozov completed the jump like the pro he was. After free-falling for just a few seconds, in fact, the adventurer took flight for almost a minute. He then enjoyed estimated 125mph speeds as he passed along Everest’s north face. Rosov also performed the perfect landing on the Rongbuk Glacier, which itself has an altitude of over 19,000 feet.

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Footage from the stunt, which was then the highest BASE jump ever, shows Rozov falling close to a jagged cliff edge and gliding effortlessly through a spectacular mountain landscape. He even appears to float around on the breeze for a while before deploying a parachute and landing in the snow. And after he does so, Rozov pumps both fists to the sky in celebration of his record-breaking feat.

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Following Rozov’s incredible BASE jump, he told the Red Bull team, “I am super happy.” However, it wasn’t until he returned to Russia that he allowed the experience to really sink in. “Only when I got back home did I see how hard it was for me, both physically and psychologically,” he said. “When you look at the videos, you realize that it took a lot longer than usual to get from falling to flying.”

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By jumping off Mount Everest, then, Rozov had achieved something no other BASE jumper had. But that didn’t stop him from planning more stunts. And in 2016 the daredevil even beat the record he’d set on Everest. He did it by jumping 25,262 feet off the Himalayas’ Cho Oyu – the sixth tallest mountain on the planet.

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But just one year later, Rozov unfortunately met a tragic end. In 2017, at the age of 52, he lost his life during a jump on another mountain in the Himalayas: Ama Dablam. The sad news was later reported on the Red Bull website too. On it, the company posted a heartfelt statement that paid tribute to the man’s fearlessness.

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The moving statement from Red Bull said, “With deep sorrow, we report the death of Valery Rozov during an expedition on Mount Ama Dablam in the Himalayas, eastern Nepal. [Rosov] had been a member of the Red Bull family since 2004. The Russian received international recognition as a highly professional athlete, an aerial adventurer who tirelessly set himself against increasingly difficult goals.”

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The Red Bull tribute to Rozov continued, “[He] will always remain in our memory: strong in spirit, professional, modest, full of energy, an eternal dreamer who was forever burning with new ideas and projects. We express our deepest condolences to [Rosov]’s wife and sons, whom he loved and valued very much.”

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Prior to Rozov’s death, the daredevil had admitted that he sometimes got “scared” by his sport. “It’s a natural human emotion when your basic instincts start to work because you realize that what you are doing can be dangerous for your life,” the BASE jumper explained. He also revealed that he wouldn’t want his three sons to partake in the extreme activity.

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After all, Rozov was the latest in a long line of BASE jumpers who’d met their deaths doing what they loved. The tragic tradition goes at least as far back as Franz Reichelt in 1912 – and will likely continue long after the passing of Rozov. In fact, in 2016 an unofficial list of BASE jumping fatalities since 1981 exceeded 300.

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The rise coincided with the deadliest year BASE jumping had ever seen too. And it is believed that the use of wingsuits – such as the one Rozov wore – is partly responsible. The nylon jumpsuits replicate the shape of flying squirrels and enable wearers to experience the sensation of flying. This is opposed to simply falling, as BASE jumpers and skydivers have done in the past.

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Part of the problem, many argue, is the lack of education around wingsuits, which are a relatively new invention. “The simple truth is that wingsuit BASE jumpers don’t know what they are getting into,” Matt Gerdes, owner of and test pilot for wingsuit manufacturer Squirrel, explained to National Geographic magazine in 2016. “[They] don’t know how to practice the sport safely. And [they] don’t even know enough to know how little they know.”

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Yet while the advent of wingsuits may be making BASE jumping more dangerous, the sport is as popular as ever. And perhaps it’s the risks associated with the activity that make it so appealing to a certain demographic. For them, it seems, skirting the narrow line between life and death is when they feel the most alive.

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