Flying Frenchman falls into sea on Channel crossing bid

Franky Zapata stands on his jet-powered ‘flyboard’ as he takes off from Sangatte, northern France, attempting to fly across 22-mileChannel crossing in 20 minutes, July 25, 2019. — AFP pic
Franky Zapata stands on his jet-powered ‘flyboard’ as he takes off from Sangatte, northern France, attempting to fly across 22-mileChannel crossing in 20 minutes, July 25, 2019. — AFP pic

SANGATTE (France), July 25 — A daredevil French inventor today failed in his attempt to fly across the Channel from France to Britain standing on a jet-powered “flyboard”, having to be rescued after falling into the sea, his team said.

Franky Zapata, 40, a former jet-skiing champion, took off successfully from Sangatte in northern France but then fell into the Channel during a tricky mid-sea refuelling stop, a member of his team told AFP.

Zapata had planned to land in Britain around Dover after a flight of just 20 minutes.

The refuelling was always set to be one of the trickiest parts of the operation and Zapata appeared have made contact with the refuelling platform due to the waves, forcing him into the sea.

The flyboard is fuelled by kerosene stored in the rider’s backpack.

Zapata carried 47 kilos (104 pounds) of it today. But as that would only take him part of the way across the Channel, he needed to pick up a new backpack in mid-Channel for the second half of the trip.

Bleriot anniversary

In a scene resembling a science fiction film, Zapata had zoomed into the sky to begin his attempt wearing a full body suit, helmet and clutching a control device.

In a tribute to past aviation heroes, Zapata had picked the day that marks 110 years since pioneer Louis Bleriot made the first airplane flight across the Channel on July 25, 1909.

He had hoped to make the 35-kilometre (22-mile) crossing in 20 minutes, keeping an average speed of 140 kilometres an hour (87 mph) at a height of 15-20 metres (50-65 feet) above the water.

His plan hit problems initially as the French maritime authorities refused to give the project their blessing — while stopping short of an outright ban — due to busy shipping traffic in the Channel.

But the maritime authorities said they lifted their “unfavourable opinion” after receiving guarantees from Zapata about his refuelling plans and safety.

‘Follow in the footsteps’

Zapata sprung to national prominence at the July 14 Bastille Day military parade when he soared above the Place de la Concorde in Paris in front of world leaders including President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He carried a rifle during that demonstration and the French defence ministry said it was studying how the flyboard could be used by its troops.

“We created a new way of flying. We don’t use wings. You are like a bird, it is your body that is flying. It is a boyhood dream,” he told reporters ahead of the Channel flight.

“We want to follow a little bit in the footsteps of the pioneers of aviation,” he added.

Zapata’s flyboard, which is about the size of a skateboard, is powered by five small jet engines that allow the rider to fly at speeds of 190 kilometres an hour (118 mph). — AFP

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