Vincent Reffet, a French stuntman known for his jumps from the tallest towers and highest mountains in the world and his flight performance with a jetpack, died during a training session in Dubai on Tuesday. He was 36 years old.
As a free-flying world champion and avid BASE jumper (which involved jumps from towering static objects rather than from an airplane), Mr. Reffet had accomplished stunning feats, including a record jump of over 2,700 feet from a platform above the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building the world and a jump in the air from a 13,000 foot mountain in Switzerland.
Jetman Dubai, of which he was a member, confirmed his death but did not provide any further details. The Dubai Police and the United Arab Emirates General Civil Aviation Authority did not respond to requests for comment.
“Vince was a talented athlete and a popular and respected member of our team,” Jetman Dubai said in a statement, adding that the group is working with the authorities.
Mr. Reffet’s stature rose sharply in 2015 after he caught the attention of Yves Rossy, a Swiss aviation enthusiast who became the first man to fly a jet-powered wing and who later invited Mr. Reffet, a second “Jetman” to his group to become.
In Dubai, the group worked with XDubai, an extreme sports brand sponsored by the Crown Prince. In a viral stunt, the couple flew with jetpacks over Dubai next to an Emirates Airbus 380, the largest passenger aircraft in the world.
Mr Reffet, the son of two parachutists, grew up in Annecy in eastern France. Introduced to the world of aerial stunts at a young age, he made his first solo jump in 2000, according to a bio on Redbull’s website, the energy drink that sponsored him. Much of his work was done with his friend and close collaborator Frederic Fugen, with whom he also founded Soul Flyers, a team of skydivers and jumpers.
In interviews, Mr. Reffet spoke of the liberation that flying with a jetpack gave him, and of the joy of crossing borders.
“It’s the feeling of freedom,” he told The Associated Press in 2015. “When I go skydiving I like that feeling of freedom – I can go pretty much anywhere I want – but always down.” But with the jetpack he said: “I can fly like a bird.”
BASE jumping is one of the most dangerous recreational sports in the world, and even with a jetpack, Mr. Reffet was aware of the dangers associated with his stunts.
“To be completely autonomous, you run the risk of losing your life. Something goes wrong, you have to act quickly, ”he said in“ Loft: The Jetman Story ”, a documentary. And the amusement of feats like zooming in on a plane over Swiss mountains was a “mental” struggle that would make a person “sick in the stomach,” he told Agence-France Presse last month.
His exploits over landscapes such as the Dubai skyline, the highest mountain in Europe, Mont Blanc and the Tianmen Cave in China, filmed in high definition and posted on YouTube, brought audiences around the world to the experience.
In February, he achieved what Jetman Dubai first described as taking off from the ground on a jetpack before flying high, a move reminiscent of the Marvel hero Iron Man.
He recently said on social media that “a lot more is to come”.
The fans paid tribute to Mr. Reffet on his Instagram page on Wednesday. Some said he inspired them to get into the sport. “You and Fred are both the reason I started jumping 7 years ago,” wrote one, referring to Mr. Fugen, his colleague. “Fly Free Forever.”