Austrian Felix Baumgartner has become the first skydiver to go faster than the speed of sound, reaching a maximum velocity of 833.9mph (1,342km/h). Jumping out of a balloon 128,100ft (24 miles; 39km) above New Mexico, the 43-year-old also smashed the record for the highest ever freefall. He said he almost aborted the dive because his helmet visor fogged up.
It took just under 10 minutes for him to descend. Only the last few thousand feet were negotiated by parachute. Once down, he fell to his knees and raised his fists in triumph. Helicopter recovery teams were on hand moments later.
"Let me tell you - when I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble. You don't think about breaking records anymore, you don't think about gaining scientific data - the only thing that you want is to come back alive," he said afterwards at a media conference.
None of the new marks set by Baumgartner can be classed as "official" until endorsed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI). A representative from FAI was the first to greet the skydiver on the ground. GPS data recorded on to a microcard in the Austrian's chest pack will form the basis for the height and speed claims that are made.
The jump in numbers
- Exit altitude: 128,100ft; 39,045m
- Freefall time: 4'20"
- Freefall distance 119,846ft; 36,529m
- Max velocity: 833.9mph; 1,342.8km/h; Mach 1.24
There was concern early in the dive that Baumgartner was in trouble. He was supposed to get himself into a delta position - head down, arms swept back - as soon as possible after leaving his capsule. But the video showed him tumbling over and over. Eventually, however, he was able to use his great experience, from more than 2,500 career dives, to correct his fall and get into a stable configuration.
Even before this drama, it was thought the mission might have to be called off. As he went through last-minute checks inside the capsule, it was found that a heater for his visor was not working. This meant the visor fogged up as he exhaled.