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Los Angeles (AFP) Oct 14, 2012
"Fearless Felix" Baumgartner, the Austrian daredevil who stunned fans around the world Sunday by breaking the sound barrier in a hair-raising dive from the fringe of space, was "born to fly."
That's according to a tattoo the 43-year-old sports, a motto that took on a whole new meaning after his nail-biting feat, the fastest freefall ever by leaping from a capsule more than 24 miles (39 kilometers) above the Earth and reaching a top speed of 833.9 miles (1,342 kilometers) per hour.
The dramatic jump -- which could have ended in disaster by causing his blood to boil -- propelled the extreme adventure-seeker into the record books.
It also made a childhood dream come true.
"I always had the desire to be in the air," Austria's Kurier newspaper quoted Baumgartner as saying. "I climbed trees, I wanted to see the world from above."
He certainly did that Sunday -- and then some.
Baumgartner, who was born in Salzburg, Austria, on April 20, 1969, has come a long way from his younger years working as a car mechanic and repairing motorcycles as he searched for ways to soar from the sky.
He took his first skydive at the age of 16, and improved his skills in the Austrian military.
Over time, the buff and tanned athlete -- who says "the air is where I am at home" -- built up an impressive portfolio of stunts.
One of his first records was in 1999 for the lowest BASE dive from the hand of Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, which is 95 feet (29 meters) above the ground.
BASE is an acronym for four things that can be jumped from: buildings, antennas, spans and earth.
As a licensed helicopter pilot and gas balloonist whose hobbies include boxing and climbing, he twice also set world records for the highest BASE jump from a building.
The first was from the 1,479-foot Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1999, and later from the even taller Taipei 101 tower in Taiwan.
In 2003, he completed the first winged "freefall crossing" of the English Channel, leaping out of an aircraft and flying the rest of the way to Calais in northern France with a pair of carbon wings.
Other feats include parachuting into a 623-foot deep cave in Croatia, leaping off the highest bridge in the world, the 1,125-foot Millau Viaduct in France.
He had been training for the Red Bull Stratos jump from far above the Earth for seven years, and previously leaped from 71,600 feet and 97,100 feet.
According to his mother Eva, Baumgartner's latest achievement was "his biggest dream."
"I'm very happy he gets to do this because he's worked toward it all these years," she said ahead of the event, which was twice delayed due to weather, in a video posted on Kurier's website. "Now it's really his big day."
Despite the dangers, the telegenic Baumgartner never seemed to fear having to pay the ultimate price for his passion -- stressing it was all about doing your homework.
"I hate it if someone calls me a thrill-seeker or an adrenaline junkie because I am not. I like the whole planning," Baumgartner said ahead of the stunt.
But there was no denying he was glad to be back on the ground safe and sound.
"When you're standing there on top of the world, you become so humble... The only thing is you want to come back alive," he told reporters.
Shortly before leaping, in footage beamed live around the world on a crackly radio link recalling Neil Armstrong's first words on the Moon, Baumgartner had said: "Sometimes you have (to go) up really high to (understand) how small you are."
It remains to be seen what Baumgartner, who divides his time between Switzerland and the United States, will do next.
If his website is to be believed, there could be much more to come: "Everyone has limits -- not everyone accepts them!!!" it says.
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