One of Dubai’s “jetmen”, whose flights over the world’s tallest building and alongside a jumbo jet with engines strapped to his back wowed watchers online, died Tuesday while training in the deserts of this Arabian sheikhdom, his organisation said.
Vincent Reffet, 36, of Annecy, France, was killed during the training, Jetman Dubai said in a statement. The organisation did not elaborate, though it said it was “working closely with all relevant authorities”.
“Vince was a talented athlete, and a much-loved and respected member of our team,” its statement said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and all those who knew and worked with him.”
Dubai police did not immediately acknowledge the incident. The United Arab Emirates’ General Civil Aviation Authority, which investigates all aviation incidents in this federation of seven sheikhdoms, did not immediately return a call for comment on Tuesday night.
Reffet had base jumped off the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building at 828 metres (2,716 feet) in Dubai, setting a world record. “Base” is an acronym for building, antenna, span and earth.
He earlier earned gold medals while competing as a free-flying skydiver on a team and competed as an extreme athlete sponsored by Red Bull. The thrills were in his blood as his parents also were skydivers.
“I believe that if you dream big and if you love what you do everything is possible,” Reffet was quoted as saying.
But the general public in Dubai came to know Reffet as part of Jetman Dubai.
The organisation, founded by Swiss adventurer Yves Rossy, sees its athletes zip across the sky with a four-engine carbon-Kevlar wing strapped to their backs. The wings can fly 50km (30 miles), have a maximum speed of over 400km/h (248mph) and can reach an altitude of 6,100 metres (20,000 feet).
Under the brand of XDubai, which is associated with the crown prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the jetmen have flown past the Burj Khalifa and other sites around the city state.
Famously in 2015, Reffet and Rossy flew alongside an Emirates Airbus A380 double-decker plane over Dubai.
“It’s the sensation of freedom. Already, you know, when I am skydiving, I have like this feeling of freedom I can like pretty much go where I want but always going down,” Reffet told Associated Press in 2015.
“With this machine … I can fly like a bird.”