Patrick De Gayardon was born on January 23, 1960, in Oullins, near Paris. Orphaned at only two, he was raised by his grandparents. He attended the Marian Fathers’ college in Lyon, and went on to study law at university. A sports enthusiast since childhood, he played tennis, golf and volleyball, and loved to ski. He was 20 when he took up base-jumping, an extreme version of parachuting. Instead of jumping from a plane, base jumpers leap from fixed locations like roofs or cliffs. De Gayardon later moved on from base-jumping to the acrobatics of freestyle skydiving. His ability to ride the wind and handle great speeds soon impressed experts.
At the end of the 1980s he approached another extreme sport: sky surfing. Videos of De Gayardon doing stunts in the sky with a surfboard were broadcast across the world. De Gayardon loved to look for natural obstacles to overcome in the world’s remotest areas. He jumped in the Sòtano de Las Golondrinas canyon in Mexico. He leapt off the world’s highest waterfall in Venezuela. In Moscow, De Gayardon set a new record by jumping from 12,700 meters without a respirator. Together with a team of technicians, he carefully planned each detail of his stunts. De Gayardon considered pushing the envelope his mission. His aim was to help man progress and become more aware of his capabilities. De Gayardon was not simply an athlete; many consider him a flight scientist. In 1997, he fulfilled a dream that had captured imaginations since the dawn of time: human flight. In the past, those who tried to fly always attempted to imitate bird flight. De Gayardon, on the other hand, understood that if man was to fly, he had to use not only his arms, but also his legs. The French athlete took his inspiration from the flying lemurs of Madagascar.
After a 3-year design phase, he created a jumpsuit with fabric sewn between the arms and legs, allowing the human body to glide. It was the Wing Flight project. De Gayardon tested the wing-suit on October 31, 1997 in the skies above Chamonix: he jumped from an altitude of 4,000 meters and skydived for 6 km in 3 minutes. The horizontal distance covered was longer than the vertical distance: the experiment was a success. On April 13, 1998. De Gayardon was in Hawaii to shoot a video promoting the wing-suit. Together with two friends, he boarded his plane for a test jump. At 1,200 meters, his friends’ parachutes opened as planned. But De Gayardon’s didn’t. He disappeared among the trees. Patrick De Gayardon died at 38.