ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) — Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner landed safely on Earth after a 24-mile jump from the stratosphere in a dramatic, record-breaking feat that may also have marked the world's first supersonic skydive.
Baumgartner came down in the eastern New Mexico desert minutes after jumping from his capsule 128,097 feet, or roughly 24 miles, above Earth. He lifted his arms in victory shortly after landing, sending off loud cheers from jubilant onlookers and friends inside the mission's control center in Roswell, N.M.
It was the highest-ever jump for a skydiver, though it wasn't immediately certain whether Baumgartner had broken the speed of sound during his free-fall, which was one of the goals of the mission. Organizers said the descent lasted for just over nine minutes, about half of it in free-fall.
Three hours earlier, Baumgartner, known as "Fearless Felix," had taken off in a pressurized capsule carried by a 55-story ultra-thin helium balloon. After an at-times tense ascent, which included concerns about how well his facial shield was working, the 43-year-old former military parachutist completed a final safety check-list with mission control.
As he exited his capsule from high above Earth, he flashed a thumbs-up sign, well aware that the feat was being shown on a live-stream on the Internet.
During the ensuing jump — from more than three times the height of the average cruising altitude for jetliners — Baumgartner was expected to hit a speed of 690 mph.
Any contact with the capsule on his exit could have torn his pressurized suit, a rip that could expose him to a lack of oxygen and temperatures as low as minus-70 degrees. That could have caused lethal bubbles to form in his bodily fluids.
But none of that happened. He activated his parachute as he neared Earth, gently gliding into the desert east of Roswell and landing without any apparent difficulty. He then was taken by helicopter to meet fellow members of his team, whom he hugged in celebration.
Coincidentally, Baumgartner's attempted feat also marked the 65th anniversary of U.S. test pilot Chuck Yeager successful attempt to become the first man to officially break the sound barrier aboard an airplane.
At Baumgartner's insistence, some 30 cameras recorded the event Sunday. Shortly after launch, screens at mission control showed the capsule as it began rising high above the New Mexico desert, with cheers erupting from organizers. Baumgartner could be seen on video, calmly checking instruments inside the capsule.