Frenchman Vince Reffet, part of the “Jetman” team which has performed groundbreaking stunts above Dubai using jetpacks and carbon-fibre wings, was killed in a training accident Tuesday, a spokesman said.
The Jetmen have pulled off a series of dramatic flights over the Gulf city, soaring in tandem above the world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa and alongside an Emirates Airbus A380, the world’s largest commercial airliner.
Stunts elsewhere in the world, including swooping into an aeroplane through a small door in mid-flight, and flying through China’s famed “Heaven’s Gate” archway in the mountains of Hunan province, drew huge audiences on social media.
“It is with unimaginable sadness that we announce the passing of Jetman Pilot, Vincent (Vince) Reffet, who died this morning, 17 November, during training in Dubai,” Jetman Dubai spokesman Abdulla Binhabtoor told AFP.
“Vince was a talented athlete, and a much-loved and respected member of our team. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and all those who knew and worked with him.”
The accident, which happened at 36-year-old Reffet’s Jetman base in the desert outside the city, is now under investigation.
“We are working closely with all relevant authorities,” Binhabtoor said.
Reffet’s exploits went viral earlier this year, with video of him taking off from the ground and climbing to 1,800 metres (nearly 6,000 feet) over Dubai’s waterfront, in a feat reminiscent of Marvel’s “Iron Man”.
The Frenchman hovered five metres above the waters of Dubai’s coast before shooting off into the air and skimming the city’s skyline in the stunt that was hailed as a world first.
The Jetmen had previously launched themselves into the air by jumping down from high platforms.
In an interview with AFP in October, Reffet described the exhilaration of stunts like zooming into the plane flying over the Swiss mountains, which he said left him feeling “sick to your stomach”.
“You’re not well, it’s a mental battle. And then you get on the plane, the project is over, and now you’re already thinking about the next project. You’re looking for that moment,” he said.
“You have so many dreams and life is so short.”
Reffet’s carbon fibre wings were powered by four mini jet engines. The equipment, which is controlled by the pilot’s movements, is capable of reaching speeds of 400 kilometres (250 miles) per hour.
The Jetman team also includes fellow Frenchman Fred Fugen and Emirati pilot Ahmed Alshehhi.