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By Tom Leonard Published: 00:03, 16 October 2012 | Updated: 13:39, 16 October 2012 83View commentsAs a boy, Felix Baumgartner could hardly go past a tree without wanting to climb it. Flick through his childhood photos and more than half of them are of him at the top of one.‘I wanted to climb everything,’ he says. ‘I loved to get to the top of a building, a house, a tree, whatever. I loved watching the world from above. The air is my element. I like to be up there as much as I can.’ And then, of course, once he had got up there, he had to get down again.Scroll down for videoRight hand man: Felix prepares to base jump from the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro Dangerous: Baumgartner calculated it would take him two and a half seconds to hit the ground after stepping off the outstretched hand, which is 95ft highMillions of people around the world watched frozen in shock on Sunday as the Austrian skydiver stepped out of a capsule 24 miles above the Earth. It wasn’t just a question of whether he would get down alive, but also, who in his right mind would do such a thing? Who would board a tiny capsule and float up by balloon to the edge of space before hurling himself through the air at up to 834mph, faster than the speed of sound?As Felix Baumgartner ascended to a height that no man had previously jumped from, so too rose the number of viewers watching the record-breaking jump.As he fell to earth at speeds not previously experienced by a freefalling man, a staggering 8million people watched via YouTube alone.More than 40 television networks in 50 countries carried the live feed, the organisers reported, and it was shown my more than 130 digital outlets.For many, it was the first they had heard of ‘Fearless Felix’. But, in fact, his plunge — the highest and fastest yet made by a skydiver — was only the crowning achievement on a career that has seen him make more than 2,600 jumps, most of them utterly terrifying.Baumgartner has jumped from a plane and flown across the Channel with wings strapped to his back. He’s jumped off the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, and the 101-storey Taipei Tower in Taiwan.Nothing in Baumgartner’s family background suggests he would become the world’s most adventurous daredevil. He was born in the beautiful Alpine city of Salzburg. Baumgartner’s father, a carpenter also called Felix, and mother, Eva, a farmer, didn’t do any sport at all — not even skiing in the surrounding mountains.Risk-taker: The Austrian skydiver jumps out of a capsule, becoming the first man to break the sound barrier in a freefall jump from the edge of spaceLeap of faith: Millions watched in shock as Baumgartner plummeted 24 miles at 834mphBack on earth: Baumgartner waves after jumping from a space capsule lifted by a helium balloon at a height of just over 128,000 feetWhen Felix announced he wanted to be a stuntman, they pressed him to get a ‘decent job’ — his brother Gerard, now 41, followed their advice and became a chefBut there was a parachute club near where they lived and as soon as Felix turned 17 — the legal age for skydiving in Austria — he joined the club. Soon afterwards, he watched a video of a man parachuting off a cliff in the Yosemite national park in California and was desperate to do it himself.Felix Baumgartner is to take the plunge again - by getting married to former model Nicole Oetl next year.The Austrian couple had put off their engagement plans until after Felix completed his 24 mile high jump from a balloon.Felix, 43, and former Miss Lower Austria beauty queen Nicole, 26, plan to marry early in 2013.The couple hope to then settle down in Arbon, Switzerland.He spent five years in the Austrian army, where he served in its parachute display team. He says he loved the army and the discipline it instilled in him for his subsequent career.After the military Baumgartner was keen to break into the highly risky field of base jumping (short for Building, Antenna, Space, Earth) which involves leaping off fixed structures or landmarks and opening the parachute at the last second. It wasn’t until 1995, when he was in his mid 20s, that he found a Texan named Tracy Lee Walker, who could teach him how to base jump. Within two years, he was the base jumping world champion after plunging from a bridge in West Virginia and had soon earned the sponsorship of energy drinks maker Red Bull.The king of base jumpers, Baumgartner loved nothing better than finding a bridge or building that no one had ever tried to parachute from. He preferred illegal jumps as it was ‘more fun’. He jumped off anything from the Mandalay Casino in Las Vegas to the Olympic Tower in Munich, but it wasn’t until 1999 that he really grabbed the world’s attention. In April of that year, he jumped from the 1,479ft Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia — then the world’s highest man-made structure. And, in December, he proved that when it came to base jumping, low jumps could be even more terrifying than high ones when he stepped off the outstretched hand of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue, which is just 95ft high.It was the lowest base jump ever attempted and Baumgartner had calculated that it would take him two-and-a-half seconds to hit the ground. His parachute opened with one second to spare.It was not only dangerous but illegal in Brazil. Baumgartner — who had spent weeks training by jumping from a crane in Salzburg — sneaked through customs by pretending to be an archer travelling to a tournament. Taking in the view: Baumgartner prepares to jump from the top of the Taipei Tower. After he landed in a busy street he rushed to the airport to avoid the angry authoritiesFearless: Baumgartner jumped off the 101-storey Taipei Tower in Taiwan which was the tallest building in the worldWhile police detained two of his support team, Baumgartner — a master of disguise, it seems — got into the park around the statue dressed as a businessman complete with suit, glasses and a copy of the Financial Times.Once inside, he changed into black clothes from a pack that had been hidden in the park earlier and spent the night hiding at the statue base.Just before dawn, he fired a cable from a crossbow over the statue’s right arm and climbed up to the hand. A devout Catholic, he left flowers on the statue’s shoulder as a mark of respect. Having successfully parachuted into the park’s car park, he managed to escape in a getaway car before police arrived.‘As I was standing on the hand, no more than 20 centimetres wide, looking into the rising sun, I realised that I would never feel anything like this in my life again,’ he said afterwards.Perhaps he would never again have such a spiritual experience as diving off Christ’s hand at dawn, but Baumgartner soon had plenty of new ideas.The following September he jumped off the Forth Road Bridge, escaping in a dinghy. And in July 2003 — after several years of preparation — he came back to Britain for an altogether new stunt. Daredevil: Baumgartner leapt off the Forth Road Bridge in Scotland before escaping in a dinghyJumping out of a plane at 30,000ft over Dover with a 6ft wing made of carbon fibre strapped across his back, he flew across the Channel without power.Baumgartner had to contend not only with a temperature of minus 40c and cloud cover that meant he could not see where he was going, but also with the inescapable laws of gravity: for every six yards he flew, he fell one yard. The first person to accomplish the feat, he made the 22-mile trip to Calais in seven minutes, hitting a top speed of 220 mph and deploying his parachute when he was 3,000ft over the French coast.Waiting for him on the other side was a very relieved-looking German TV presenter Katjuschka Altmann, who for years had the unenviable job of being Fearless Felix’s girlfriend. ‘I couldn’t sleep last night, but I never doubted he could do it,’ she said after the stunt.Baumgartner, who sounds like a man who has never had a sleepless night in his life, said it had been ‘brilliant’, although when his parachute opened, the 26lb weight of the wing caused him to backflip and he was forced to cut his left leg free after it became tangled in the cords of his parachute. ‘It was a hairy moment when I had to reach for my knife and cut the chute, but I knew I had a back-up chute and I’ve trained for every eventuality,’ he said later. ‘I felt very alone at times but not really scared.’His plans have not always come off. In 2004, he and three assistants spent six days in jail in Panama after illegally jumping off the bridge connecting North and South America. But a few months later he proved that sometimes it’s not just what you jump off but what you jump into that matters. He plunged into one of the deepest vertical caves in the world — the 600ft, pitch-black Mamet cave in Croatia — and endured what he called an ‘exceptionally sharp and uneven landing’. Like a bird: Baumgartner was the first man to glide across the Channel (right). He also plunged 600ft into the pitch-black Mamet cave in Croatia Human bullet: After Baumgartner flew unassisted across the Channel, he was greeted by his girlfriend TV presenter Katuschka AltmannHe wore an MP3 player to give him an acoustic signal so he could open the parachute after precisely 7.2 seconds. ‘Any earlier and I would have bumped right into the wall. Any later and there would not have been enough time for the parachute to open,’ he said.The cave jump had what he would call a ‘hairy moment’ when the parachute opened and twisted towards the rock wall. At the last minute, Baumgartner managed to turn and touch down in the only safe landing spot among the razor-sharp rocks at the bottom of the cave.He has done dozens more base jumps since then, most notably in 2007, when he jumped off the 1,670ft Taipei 101 Tower in Taiwan, at the time the world’s tallest building. Landing in a busy street, he fled straight to the airport and out of the country before the furious authorities could catch him.Baumgartner is not given to profound insights about why he does what he does — indeed, if he were the type to do that, one suspects he would never have gone down this path. Instead, he comes up with cliches like, ‘The sky is my second home’ and, ‘Everyone has limits — not everyone accepts them.’ Years ago, he said he wanted to be known as ‘the God of the Skies’, adding: ‘The bit I love most is the second before jumping when you know it can all go wrong yet you still do it.’The Austrian — whose other passions are boxing, mountain climbing, motocross and rally driving — claims his body is starting to ‘creak’ and that he has plans to ‘retire’ and become a helicopter rescue pilot. We will believe that when we see it.Felix admits, however, that one thing makes him nervous — his mum fussing and telling him to ‘be careful’ all the time.One would have thought poor Mrs Baumgartner — holding back the tears as she watched his descent from mission control on Sunday — had given up fretting years ago.But, then, when it comes to a mother’s love, the sky’s the limit.OVER NIAGARA FALLS IN A BARRELIn 1901, New York-born Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a beer barrel and live. The stunt was tested with a cat, which survived. Annie, a widow, pulled off the feat on her 63rd birthday. Of her achievement, she said: ‘I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces, than make another trip over the Falls.’STRAITJACKET ESCAPEAged just 18, in 2006 Canadian Scott Hammell performed the world’s highest escape when he freed himself from a straitjacket and 50ft of steel chain secured by four padlocks, while suspended upside down by his ankles 7,200ft above Spain, hanging from a balloon. He admitted he was afraid of heights.TOWER BRIDGE JUMPAustralian motorbike stunt rider Robbie Maddison performed a spectacular leap over an open Tower Bridge in 2009. The London landmark was sealed off and the drawbridge opened at 3am. DEEPEST MAN ON EARTHHerbert Nitsch, a part-time pilot, set the world record for free diving — diving without swimming aids — at 214 metres off the coast of Greece in 2007. Nitsch had to hold his breath for nine minutes. Share what you think The comments below have not been moderated. 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