Jeb Corliss flies above Tianmen Mountain in Hunan province in September 2011. Provided to China Daily
Corliss will take part in the first Wingsuit World Championship at Tianmen Mountain in October. Jiang Dong / China Daily
Corlisso rockets through a hole on Tianmen Mountain in September 2011. Provided to China Daily
Wingsuiter Jeb Corliss will take part in the first Wingsuit World Championship, on Tianmen Mountain, Hunan province, nine months after a crash. Liu Wei reports in Beijing.
Wingsuiter Jeb Corliss broke both ankles and a fibula when flying over Table Mountain in South Africa in January. But just nine months later, he will fly again in China.
In October, Corliss will take part in the first Wingsuit World Championship, to be held on Tianmen Mountain in Hunan province, competing with 15 other international wingsuiters.
The location is not new for Corliss, 36, who rocketed through a hole in a 1,300-meter-high cliff on the mountain in September 2011. He jumped from a helicopter 600 meters above the hole and flew toward it. The hole’s opening is 131 meters high, 57 meters wide and 60 meters deep.
“It was one of my most fantastic flying experiences, in terms of both the scenic beauty and the unique location,” he says.
In January, however, Corliss careered into a rocky outcrop at more than 193 kilometers per hour during a free fall from the 1,067-meter-high Table Mountain.
His target was a helium balloon, which moved from its original position because of the wind. Corliss crashed into a rock as he struggled to activate the emergency parachute. He then falls 61 meters and landed in some bracken.
He spent five weeks in hospital, the place he “fears the most”. What he has learned from the incident is never to choose a moving target, but it will not stop him from flying again.
“My whole purpose in life is flying. That’s why I eat, drink and wake up every morning.”
The race in China, known as “Formula 1 in the air”, will see Corliss and other competitors leap from a 300-meter-high cliff on Tianmen Mountain. They will fly to the right, before taking a sharp turn and flying toward the endpoint.
Joby Ogwyn, an experienced wingsuiter, recently had a test flight that was 45 seconds long.
The race is not for learners or secondary players, in view of the challenge of taking such a sharp turn in the air.
“Only about 100 wingsuiters have jumped from a mountain, and we invite the 16 best among them, such as Jeb, Joby and the guy you may have seen in Transformers 3 last year,” says Iiro Seppanen, BASE jumper and president of the World Wingsuit League, referring to the stunt scene in Michael Bay’s film.
Corliss hopes the race will raise more awareness of the excitement of wingsuit flying and promote its development in technology and equipment.
“Competition basically fuels the innovation and makes the technology move more rapidly,” he says. “Every competitor will try to enhance their equipment to win the race.”
It will be a race against time and last three days. The 10 fastest will enter the latter stages and on the live TV show. Six will compete to be crowned champion.
Corliss will compete hurt and it will be his first wingsuit competition after the incident in South Africa. His other dream targets in China include the new headquarters of the China Central Television (CCTV) – a 234-meter-high Beijing skyscraper colloquially known as “big boxer shorts” because of its shape – a 460-meter-high bridge in Jishou, Hunan province, and the 474-meter-high Shanghai World Financial Center.
“I like things that have never been done before,” he comments.
Born to a couple of international artifacts dealers, Corliss’ childhood was spent traveling around the world. By the time he was 6, he had lived in India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, where his parents scouted for art.
Always the new kid, he was a frequent target of bullies in school. After his parents divorced when he was 8, Corliss and his sisters and mother settled in Palm Springs, California. By the end of sixth grade, he was pulled out of school.
“Flying is the thing that turned me from being a dark, unhappy child to what I am today: talkative, happy and cheery.”
Corliss was first acquainted with BASE jumping on TV. He saw a man walk to the edge of a cliff, step off and perform a gainer.
He had strong feelings it would be his future. He would do whatever it took.
At 18, Corliss began skydiving training to prepare for BASE jumping.
From skydiving, BASE jumping to wingsuit flying, it took tens of thousands of jumps and injuries. A daredevil in many people’s eyes, Corliss never fears talking about fear.
“I am scared of the same things other people are scared of.”
The first time he jumped off a plane, he admits he was “scared to death”.
“But you cannot stop doing something you love just because it scares you. You live with your fear, control it and use it to make more careful preparations.”
When he smacked into the rock on Table Mountain, he did have a quick thought that maybe he was going to die. He has seen friends die.
Australian wingsuiter Dwain Weston, known for his daring low-altitude acrobatics, was a mentor to Corliss. In October 2003, they planned to do a combo jump from a plane flying above Colorado’s Royal Gorge Bridge.
Weston struck the bridge railing, which tore his body in half. Corliss kept flying but when he landed, he was covered in Weston’s blood.
“Dwain was doing what he loved,” Corliss says. “I guarantee you he would prefer dying like that than he would in a car accident, or from cancer or from almost any other way of dying.”
What matters in life, Corliss believes, is not how long it is, but what one does in the limited time available.
“Once you accept the fact that there is no stopping death, you don’t let death stop you from doing things you love.”