Austrian Felix Baumgartner, 43, broke records for highest and fastest skydive with his 39-kilometer, 1,342 km/hour leap on Oct. 14 with the Red Bull Stratos team. Tens of millions watched his death-defying leap. We caught up with him after he returned to planet Earth.
Metro: Where you able to stay calm or were there moments when you were losing it?
Baumgartner: I was not calm, because when you travel at supersonic speed how can you be calm? But I never thought ‘I lost it’. I was constantly working out problems. I knew I was going to tumble. I knew it was going to be tough. But I was constantly working on it, using all my skydiving skills and experience and once I had the spin stopped I never lost it [control] again. I was on high alert; you have 50 seconds to stop the spin, you know you travel at supersonic speed and you know the whole world is watching. You are not calm, you are on fire but I am used to being on fire and keeping my head cool. My highest heart rate was leaving the capsule.
What memories will stay with you?
I don’t have a lot but the one that I had and that always makes me start crying was when I was sitting in the helicopter on the way back, because I had that image in my mind for many years. I knew that would happen if this would be successful… that picture of sitting in the helicopter flying back to mission control with all my buddies, parents and girlfriend waiting there. That picture was in my mind for so many years, I needed it to motivate myself in those moments when things were not going in the right direction. When that finally became reality it was an overwhelming moment that I still have in my mind. Only [engineer] Mike Todd saw me crying.
What’s the feeling of being a celebrity now?
It’s one thing being recognized by true fans that want personal Felix autographs, I’m always keen to do that stuff because I love my fans. But if it’s always the same bunch of guys who want me to sign their papers when I know it’s going to end up on eBay anyway, this is not a true fan – this is just people trying to make money out of me and that’s not cool. With true fans I will always take time to sign whatever they want but this group of people has been chasing me for two days.
What is the lesson from all this?
Enjoy the moment. Andy [Walshe, Red Bull Stratos performance director] taught me that. He had been working with Olympic athletes who prepare for a moment for 15 years, but you might never get it. If you can enjoy the journey – every workout, every moment of sweat – that’s what matters. I sucked up everything I accomplished along the way. I put it all out there and when it finally happened I was so happy.
Felix Baumgartner: World’s greatest daredevil
Partner: Gymnast Nicole Oetl, 26
Occupation: Now a helicopter pilot for emergency and commercial services. Was the world’s leading skydiver and BASE jumper.
Greatest missions: Flying from England to France with his own wings, the shortest base jump from Christ the Redeemer in Rio, highest ever skydive.
Motto: ‘Enjoy the journey’