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"Fusionman" ditches into sea on failed flight

What goes up: Yves Rossy kneels in the doorway of a rescue helicopter after ditching in the sea

(Keystone)

Yves "Fusionman" Rossy tried and failed to make aviation history on Wednesday by flying across the Strait of Gibraltar from North Africa to Europe using his DIY jetwing.

Rossy, an airline captain and ex-fighter pilot, took off from Tangiers for southern Spain, but halfway through an expected 15-minute flight he ditched into the wind-swept waters. A rescue helicopter pulled him from the water and he appeared unhurt.

Rossy seemed to suffer heavy turbulence and he disappeared into clouds as the event was being streamed live.

A wing malfunction reportedly forced him to ditch into the rough waters with his parachute open.

A rescue party of three helicopters, two planes and ships from the Spanish coastguard took around ten minutes to locate Rossy, who survived the jump apparently unharmed. He has been taken to hospital in Jerez de La Frontera for a precautionary check-up but was reportedly seen walking and "in good spirits".

The flight was broadcast live for Webtel.mobi, a mobile phone company that has funded the stunt. Its CEO Stuart Sterzel put a brave face on things.

"No, he didn't make it but, yes, it was a success because it was man's first attempt."

"If man has the courage to attempt something like this, that is what is important. If it's the first attempt, then perfect," Sterzel added.

"The window is closed now for a couple of months but he'll be back again. Probably early in the new year."

The challenge team carried out a search and rescue rehearsal on Tuesday. The wing is in the ocean and being retrieved by Spanish coast guard.

Rossy's teammate Stephane Marmier, who was monitoring local weather conditions in Atlanterra, let out a huge sigh of relief to know that Rossy was alive.

"I'm now more relaxed to know that he's ok," said Marmier. "It wasn't easy finding him in the ocean. But it's life; it's part of his training and these kind of things just make you stronger."

Record-breaker

Rossy has made a number of successful record-breaking attempts in the past.

The former fighter pilot rocketed into the record books in September 2008 when he became the first person to fly solo across the English Channel using a single jet-propelled wing.

He trained hard for the intercontinental challenge from August this year, making a dozen practice flights near Bex in canton Valais with the same long-distance wing he used for the Calais-Dover crossing.

Skydiving companion Stephane Marmier, who is part of Rossy's team, said flight preparations had been similar to last year but getting the necessary authorizations had been complicated.

"The English are very aviation-oriented and open, while it was a first time for the Moroccans for such an event," he said. "We didn't even know if we could land there."

While Webtel.mobi battled to get take-off and landing rights, Rossy eventually took his jetwing and equipment to Tangiers by van. The Spanish authorities were equally complex, posing last-minute administrative headaches.

"Exiting a country and entering another without having cleared passport formalities or passing a recognized border is an unusual situation and presents novel complexities," said Sterzel laconically.

To infinity and beyond

After this exploit, Rossy had been planning to fly over the Grand Canyon in April 2010 to show off his wing.

He believes that once he cracks the mechanics of an easy vertical take-off we could all be flying like this.

While on his three-year sabbatical from his commercial airline pilot job, he has been developing two smaller, simpler, high performance prototype wings with much more power to perform aerobatics.

He is also developing a new parachute that he could open safely at 200m rather than the current height of 800m.

"It's impressive," said Marmier, who has been helping Rossy test the new wings. "He can do loops and new moves. It's really difficult to follow him now."

Rossy says he wants to explore the wing's full potential.

"I want to make a simple wing that I can share with others and put on someone else's back so that we can do formation flying in the clouds," he told swissinfo.ch.

Simon Bradley in Atlanterra, swissinfo.ch

Fusionman

Yves Rossy, aka Fusionman, was born on August 27, 1959 in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

He has worked for the past ten years as a commercial pilot for the airline company, Swiss. Prior to that, he worked for 15 years as a fighter pilot for the Swiss Air Force.

An accomplished sportsman, his past and present hobbies include surfing, water-skiing, wakeboarding, parachuting, aerobatics, motorbike riding, rafting and hang-gliding.

He has long been involved in flying adventures. He is a keen sky surfer - performing aerial stunts on a board after freefalling from a plane - and was the first to sky surf from a hot air balloon.

Another Guinness record comes from being the first person to be transported between two small planes while holding onto handles on the wingtips of each plane.

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Jet-propelled wing

Rossy zoomed into the record books on June 24, 2004 by becoming the first person to fly horizontally for four minutes with a jet-propelled wing strapped to his back.

On September 26, 2008 Rossy became the first person to fly solo across the English Channel using a single jet-propelled wing, retracing the route of French aviator Louis Blériot.

Rossy's transformation from human to jet-man involves putting on a Formula-1 fireproof suit, three parachutes, two for Rossy and one for his wing, a helmet that beeps a warning when he goes too low and his homemade three-metre-wide carbon wing, which is strapped to his back and powered by four mini jets. His invention weighs about 55kg with fuel.

The wing, which he conceived, built and fine tuned himself over eight years, has no steering capability so Rossy had to control his movement using his head, shoulders and arms. The only instrument is the fuel throttle.

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(swissinfo.ch)


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