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October 23rd, 2012
02:24 PM ET

Skydiver “Fearless Felix” recounts a fear that almost derailed record jump

by Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd

Watch "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" Tuesday at 5pm on CNN for more of Brian Todd's interview with space jumper Felix Baumgartner.

(CNN) - He has been dubbed "Fearless Felix," but the Austrian skydiver who broke the sound barrier last week was almost derailed by a fear he had never before encountered: claustrophobia.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Situation Room's Brian Todd, Felix Baumgartner said that as he did longer and longer test runs, wearing his restrictive skydiving suit, his anxieties got worse and worse.

"I was always playing it down. I never addressed that problem. Because if I tell the guys I can't maintain in that suit for five hours – it's over."

He managed to endure hour-long tests in his pressurized suit, but soon faced a point where he had to do a five-hour test, simulating the duration he would need to wear it if he wanted to execute a record-breaking jump.

The night before, he couldn't sleep, and in the morning, when he was due to meet his team and do the test, he couldn’t do it.

"I wanted to escape,” he said. “I didn't want to stand up in front of the whole team and tell them 'Hey, I can't do it.' "

So instead, Baumgartner bolted – he went to Los Angeles International Airport and booked a flight home to Austria, giving up on all his efforts to prepare for the jump.

"At that moment – I fell apart. I mean, I was crying like a baby at the airport. I thought, 'It's over.' "

But instead, Baumgartner got help from a performance coach and a psychiatrist. Over the course of three weeks, they helped him analyze his fears, and led him through steps he could take to counter them. He learned to keep himself busy by focusing on procedures and checklists. He also practiced getting his mind outside of the confines of the suit – thinking of objects outside the suit, to transport his mind out into the open.

The problem did not come back, he said, and he successfully made his death-defying jump earlier this month. After several hours waiting in his capsule, and then being lifted by a balloon to an altitude of 24 miles, he did a record-breaking skydive that made him the first person to surpass the sound barrier in free-fall – protected only by that suit he once dreaded.

"I think the message is, if you have a problem, you have to talk to the right people," he said. "You know, there's always somebody out there who knows more about that kind of problem than you – otherwise you would have been able to solve the problem. So find that guy, work with that guy, and make sure you get over it."

soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. onjofilms

    People think adrenaline junkies or extreme sporters are not afraid. That is not true. Our palms get sweaty. Our bowels loosen up. There is fear. But when you conquer that fear and you get back to safety, it is the best feeling you can have.

    October 24, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  2. Phyllis G Williams

    I hope he made his life right with God before doing this, as he will end in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20)instead of the Street of God
    (Rev. 21) should it not succeed, but we all hope he will be OK – HAPPY LANDING

    October 24, 2012 at 8:28 am |

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