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American parachutist Joseph Kittinger, world record, dies at the age of 94 | American News

Retired US Air Force Colonel and world parachute jump record holder Joseph Kittinger has died aged 94.

In 1960, Kittinger set a world record that would last more than 50 years after jumping nearly 32 km above Earth.

His death from lung cancer was announced by former WE Representative John Mica and Kittinger’s other friends.

The former Air Force captain and pilot rose to world fame after completing three jumps from a gondola that was hoisted into the stratosphere by large helium balloons.

The jumps, which took place over 10 months, were part of Project Excelsior which aimed to help design ejection systems for military pilots performing high-altitude missions.

Joseph Kittinger in 1997

Kittinger nearly died on the project’s first jump in November 1959. Wearing a pressure suit and 60 pounds (27 kg) of gear, his gear malfunctioned after jumping 14.5 miles (23 km).

After losing consciousness as he went into a spin 22 times the force of gravity, he was saved when his automatic parachute opened.

Four weeks later, on his second jump, 22 km above the surface, there were no problems.

Kittinger made his record jump in August 1960 in the New Mexico desert. Exceeding 600 mph in free fall 19 miles (31.3 km) above the surface, his parachute was deployed at 18,000 feet (5.5 km).

Speaking in 2011 to Florida Trend magazine, he said: “There is no way to visualize speed. There is nothing you can see to see how fast you are going. You have no depth perception.

“If you’re in a car driving down the road and you close your eyes, you have no idea how fast you are. It’s the same if you’re plummeting from space. There’s no no road signs. You know you’re going really fast, but you don’t feel it. You don’t have a 614 mph wind blowing at you.

“I could only hear myself breathing through the headset.”

Captain Joseph Kittinger Jr. waits in the open balloon gondola, right, as two million cubic foot polyethylene balloons are filled with helium for the Excelsior I test jump at White Sands Missile Range, NM, November 16, 1959

After the jump, Kittinger served three tours of duty in the Vietnam War. In May 1972 he was shot in North Vietnam where he was later captured and spent 11 months in a POW camp in Hanoi.

His record stood until 2012, when Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian daredevil, jumped 24 miles (38.6 km) above the New Mexico desert, reaching the supersonic speed of 844 mph. Kittinger served as an adviser on the record jump.

Retiring from the Air Force in 1978, he settled in the Orlando, Florida area, where he became a local icon. He is survived by his wife, Sherri.

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