"Fearless Felix" talks surprising challenge of record-smashing jump

(CBS News) Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner became the first skydiver to break the speed of sound Sunday.

On Thursday, he told CBS News what it felt like -- and why he did it.

Baumgartner has jumped off the tallest buildings in the world, raced an airplane through the sky, and crossed the English Channel with a wing strapped on this back.

But this past Sunday as he spent two and a half hours riding a 55 story balloon 24 miles into the sky over Roswell, N.M., he admits his nickname "Fearless Felix" did not quite fit. He said, "You would not be human if you would not have fear. Up there, if something goes wrong, you're dead in 15 seconds."

When the capsule door opened, 43-year-old Baumgartner was riding the highest high of his life, 128,000 feet in the air.

In Los Angeles Thursday, Baumgartner took CBS News' Ben Tracy through a replay of his jump. He said the experience has been overwhelming." He said, "I mean, that view, and also the fact that when you're standing there, there's not a single person on the whole planet who have experienced this moment. It's unique."

At the moment just before he jumped, he uttered four words: "I'm going home now."

He began the jump and then, almost immediately, began to tumble. Baumgartner said of the chaotic plunge, "It starts ramping up, really violent, and then I knew, 'OK, now I have to come up with something, and I had to find a solution,' and I only had 40 seconds because then it's all over."

It would be over because he'd hit thicker air and that would slow him down and prevent him from reaching the speed of sound. But instead, he regained control, free falling for four minutes and 20 seconds, hitting Mach 1.24, 834 miles per hour.

Because of his suit and the altitude, Baumgartner said he didn't really feel how fast he was going. "In the beginning because the air is so thin, you don't have that noise, so you have almost no sensation of speed. You know you're fast, but you don't feel it."

However, they were feeling it in Mission Control where 84-year-old Joe Kittinger watched Baumgartner break the height and speed records he set back in 1960.

The three-hour spectacle took five years of planning. It was not a fear of heights that Baumgartner had to overcome, but rather claustrophobia. "The only way to go up to the altitude is you have to use a pressure suit, otherwise you're gonna die," he said. "And just the thought of spending seven hours in the suit, which is pretty much a whole day, starts freaking me out. It's not supersonic speed, it's not the height that was the problem. It was the suit. Nobody anticipated that."

A psychiatrist helped him deal with that. But there was another adjustment: his attitude. Known as a bit of a hot head, Baumgartner said he has changed a lot. "I think you're changing with age," he said. "I've become more quiet, maybe a little bit smarter. You have to become a little bit more humble."

Baumgartner created the only sonic boom created from a human in the world. Asked about the significance of that feat, he said with a smile, "It means a lot."

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Follow Us

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

The Newsroom