Livewire - May 25, 2012

Elizabeth Broughton.
Elizabeth Broughton.

By reporter Elizabeth Broughton

PEOPLE do the strangest things.

I’ve only just recovered from three hours spent 20 metres up a tree at a forest adventure park - a feat I thought showed a quite remarkable head for heights.

But then I read about the so-called “birdman” throwing himself from a helicopter without so much as a parachute to break his fall.

Was it a bird? Was it a plane? No, it was a man in a specially-made wingsuit risking life and limb for a far-fetched stunt.

Gary Connery, 42 - an ex-paratrooper from Henley-on-Thames - leapt out of the chopper at 2,400ft and used his unique suit to “steer” himself in to land over the English countryside - and on to a bed of cardboard boxes.

He is the first person to complete the death-defying stunt and, although the Civil Aviation Authority insisted he wear an emergency parachute, the chances of it opening in time to save him were remote once he hurtled past a certain altitude and towards the ground.

It took days for his wife Vivienne and an “army” of volunteers to lay out the 12ft-deep layer of 18,600 boxes in a 40ft wide strip, and they even wrote “Go Gary” with an arrow showing him where to land.

It didn’t help with an earlier attempt, when he flew into a nearby hedge.

But Wednesday afternoon’s attempt succeeded - and Mr Connery and his suit flew their way into the record books.

Now, since his stunt Mr Connery - not the actor who played James Bond by the way - has been branded everything from an English eccentric to, well, a bit of an idiot.

And, while I have nothing against people living life on the edge, I’m inclined to agree with the latter.

Call me a sissy, but while I just about understand the appeal of a skydive, relying on physics alone to steer you groundward - and keep you alive - seems a risky strategy at best.

At worst - for a man who is both a father and a husband - it’s an ill-conceived plan with a higher than average chance of imminent death.

And of course there’s the age-old question - where do you stop?

Although Mr Connery accepts his stunts carry a risk, he has refused to acknowledge they may be seen as fool-hardy or dangerous.

Wednesday’s escapade was added to an ever-growing list which includes jumping from the Eiffel Tower, riding a bicycle over Beachy Head and parachuting from the top of the London Eye big wheel.

The daredevil has also leapt from Tower Bride into a moving boat and plunged off a cliff after setting himself a blaze.

And - according to his ever faithful wife Vivienne - his next stunt will also involve flames - he hopes to turn himself into a human firework.

I think it’s safe to say I’ll stick to facing my fears on safety ropes in a forest, thanks very much.