Mark Sutton was on wingsuiting’s cutting edge


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The Independent Online

Mark Sutton was a good friend of everyone and a superb skydiver. The British skydiving community is close-knit and everyone knows each other.

Mark jumped with Gary Connery at the Olympic Opening Ceremony, and they’re really fantastic guys. There are fewer than 5,000 full time jumpers in the UK, so everybody’s had the pleasure of their company and jumping with them.

Mark was proximity flying rather than doing a wing-suit jump but the suit for both activities is very similar. With a jump, the target is to fly away from, and then make it back to, a drop-zone.

There are virtually no dangers while wing-suiting. Skydivers leave the aircraft at 15,000ft in totally clear airspace. But what Mark was doing was flying alongside the cliffs, as close to the ground as he possibly could. It really is out there on the cutting edge of the sport.

Mark’s was a very well-organised jump and these guys have been doing it for a long time. The problem is when you’re out there on the edge, things can happen.

Wingsuiting is as close to pure flight as you’ll experience, because you are flying your body. It’s as close to being a bird as you’re going to be. But it is strictly overseen by the British Parachute Association.

You’ve got to have at least 500 jumps in total and a minimum of 200 jumps in the preceding eight months before you can start training, plus a range of other requirements.

Accidents are rare because UK skydivers are the safest in the world. You can spot them wherever they are because the Brits are in a group checking each other and making sure everything’s OK. Some countries follow our mould, but most don’t.

Martin Harris, 49, is the  director of the London Parachute School in Ipsden