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French skydiver postpones historic jump

North Battleford : French Michel Fournier, 64, a former colonel of the French army reserve and parachute officer, who was scheduled on May 26,2008 to jump from a helium balloon from an altitude of 40 kms (25 miles), returns to the hangar in his suit after the attempt is posptponed until May 27, 2008 in North Battleford, in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. AFP Photo/David Boily
by Staff Writers
North Battleford, Saskatchewan (AFP) May 26, 2008
Strong winds have forced French skydiver Michel Fournier to postpone his historic 40-kilometer (25-mile) leap from the edge of the stratosphere back to Earth, which is now set for Tuesday, his spokeswoman said.

At dawn Monday, the 64-year-old parachutist had been tucked into the cabin of a helium balloon, inhaling canned oxygen to purge his blood of nitrogen to lessen the risk of an embolism caused by varying atmospheric pressures.

Hours later, Fournier's take-off from and planned plummet back to Canada's western plains was suddenly aborted and he exited the capsule.

"The jump is being postponed to tomorrow," said his spokeswoman Francine Gittins, who said the venture initially was delayed because clouds hampered vibility, and increasing winds caused it to be scrubbed.

Weather forecasters on Monday reported wind gusts of 20 kilometers (12 miles) per hour.

While Fournier's team briefly considered attempting the jump even in the windy conditions, in the end "we decided not to take the risk, because tomorrow's weather is (forecast to be) excellent," Gittens said.

Fournier has said it is his life's dream to make the record jump, which will begin at a point four times higher than the cruising altitude of a commercial jet.

He hopes Tuesday to climb for more than two hours in the helium balloon, and attain an altitude of 40,000 meters (131,233 feet) above North Battleford, Saskatchewan, before leaping.

During the plunge, he will be wearing a pressurized suit capable of withstanding temperatures of minus 100 degrees Celsius (minus 148 Fahrenheit) as he hurtles to Earth. If he loses consciousness during the jump, Fournier's parachute will automatically open.

Fournier is vying to break four world records: fastest freefall, longest freefall, highest jump, and highest altitude reached by a man in a balloon. His efforts could also someday lead to rescuing astronauts in-flight.

His team leader, Richard Correa, said earlier the moment just after take-off would be the most risky, as it would be impossible to eject during the balloon's ascent.

This latest skydiving attempt on Tuesday will come after two unsuccessful jumps by Fournier in 2002 and 2003. His balloon tore the last time, but he bought a new one for this trial.

Fournier was said to be in fighting form this round, strong as a "young man in his 20s," said Dale Sommerfeldt, launch director.

"This project is a great scientific and human challenge," said Fournier, a former French military officer.

"This is my baby, my dream. I just want to realize my dream."

Fournier plans to land some 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of North Battleford, Saskatchewan, where a helicopter would be waiting to pick him up.

The remote location was chosen because it is sparsely populated, so if something goes wrong, a crash is unlikely to hurt anyone on the ground.

"What he does will be remembered by the world, not just by North Battleford," said the city's mayor, Julian Sadlowski.

Before Fournier, in 1960 American Joseph Kittinger jumped from 31,333 meters as part of a medical experiment, and in 1962 Russian Evgueni Andreiev jumped from 24,483 meters to set a world free-fall record.

"This is Michel's day," Kittinger told public broadcaster CBC, before the jump was postponed. "He worked a long time for this, and all we can do is wish him the best of luck."

In e-mails to Fournier, Kittinger said he offered the following advice: "It is a very hostile environment up there. Be certain that everything is perfect before you go."

earlier related report
French skydiver prepares for record jump from 40km up
French skydiver Michel Fournier takes his life in his hands Monday when, weather permitting, he leaps from a balloon 40 kilometres (25 miles) above Canada's western plains.

The 64-year-old parachutist said it was his life's dream to make the record jump, which will begin at the outer reaches of the stratosphere -- about four times higher than the cruising altitude of a commercial jet.

Fournier spent Sunday resting and making the final arrangements in the small city of North Battleford, Saskatchewan, from where he will head up into the heavens in a stratospheric balloon and then throw himself off.

He will be wearing a pressurized suit capable of withstanding temperatures of minus 100 degrees Celsius (minus 148 Fahrenheit) as he hurtles to Earth at more than 1,500 kilometers per hour.

If he succeeds, Fournier will actually break four world records: for fastest freefall, longest freefall, highest jump, and highest altitude reached by a man in a balloon. It could also someday lead to rescuing astronauts in-flight.

His team leader, Richard Correa, said the moment just after take-off was the most risky, as it would be impossible to eject during the balloon's ascent.

But if Fournier loses consciousness during the jump, his parachute will automatically open.

The team will decide at 2:30am (0930 GMT) whether the weather conditions are right for the venture, which is estimated to take about three hours in total, in addition to two hours for preparation. Rain was falling late Sunday.

"This project is a great scientific and human challenge," said Fournier, a former military officer. "This is my baby, my dream. I just want to realize my dream."

His latest skydiving attempt, several years in the works, comes after two unsuccessful jumps in 2002 and 2003 and speaks to his determination. His balloon tore the last time, but he bought a new one for this trial.

If all goes well, Fournier is expected to land some 30 kilometers southwest of North Battleford -- chosen for its remote location in case something goes wrong with the balloon -- where a helicopter will be waiting to pick him up.

Before Fournier, in 1960 American Joseph Kittinger jumped from 31,333 meters as part of a medical experiment, and in 1962 Russian Evgueni Andreiev jumped from 24,483 meters to set a world free-fall record.

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