"It's more like a suicide than a sport"

At 51, Le Gallou was a veteran of thousands of base jumps. But he had never flown from the exit point at Obiou before. In order to execute his intended flight, he needed to guide himself away from the cliff face, and then sharply to the right, over a rocky outcrop. For an experienced pilot, this maneuver was relatively straightforward. The next period of the flight, however, was tricky. Le Gallou would need to glide over a long, moderately inclined plateau. In order to do so, it was imperative that he pay attention to what French wingsuit pilots call la finesse: the ratio of forward to downward movement. (To maximize lift and finesse, a pilot needs to find the perfect “angle of attack” — the best position of the wings in relation to the wind.)

If he couldn’t maintain an adequate glide in this part of the flight, he had an escape: he could pull his parachute and land on the plateau. This plan would work as long as he made the decision early enough. But if he bailed too late, he would crash before his chute could fill with air. The best case would be the simplest: to fly with “une bonne finesse,” continue over the inclined plateau and the pine trees and eventually pull his chute above the valley floor…

“If you’re all tuned in, there’s ‘Yes,’ ” he said. “On the mediocre days, there are two other voices­. One’s ‘Fear.’ Your body is screaming out at you, ‘Don’t do this,’ because it’s dangerous, unnatural. You’re there to conquer your fear. But there’s another voice that hangs around every now and again, and that’s called ‘No.’ Something’s not right. You can never put your finger on it — it could be something in your pack job, or the weather, or the people you’re jumping with, or your mind-set. It’s just, ‘Walk away, don’t go jumping today.’ The difficulty is trying to discern between ‘Fear’ and ‘No,’ because they’re both telling you the same thing. ‘No’ is your sixth sense that’s trying to save your life.”

Whatever voice Le Gallou heard that morning, he jumped.

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