By Antoine Agasse And Pierre Pratabuy ,AFP
CHAMONIX, France — Playing Icarus as they leap off sheer cliffs and fly at eye-watering speeds along mountainsides, thrill-seekers dressed like flamboyant bats have become an increasingly common sight in the Alps. But the incredible rush of wingsuits can come at the ultimate price. On a plateau of the Brevent mountain in Chamonix, France, a group of men and women in winged bodysuits are lined up along the edge of a sheer cliff face, facing the snowy peaks of Mont Blanc and staring down at a 2,500-meter (8,300-foot) drop. Suddenly, they throw themselves off, drawing gasps from nearby tourists.
Their flight lasts barely a minute. Within eight seconds, they are up to speeds of 200 kilometers per hour (120 miles per hour).
They fly “by pushing against the air: it’s gravity that creates the magic of it all, the wind doesn’t do anything,” said Roch Malnuit, head of the French Base Association. First tested by wingsuiters in June 2012, Brevent has quickly become a renowned port of call for the discipline, along with Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland.
Its fame spread as a result of Internet videos and within weeks there were 30 or so jumps a day.
But then came the first injuries, and then the first death, and the authorities in Chamonix shut the sport down there for a year before reconsidering their decision.
“They only speak about us when there are accidents,” said Swiss wingsuit enthusiast Geraldine Fasnacht, 28. She was the first to jump from the 4,500-meter high Matterhorn in Switzerland last June. “It’s a magnificent sport that requires an enormous amount of preparation and work.”