John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Extreme-sports enthusiasts Jokke Sommer and Ludovic Woerth take a hair-raising ride through Brazil's urban jungle.
Jokke Sommer and Ludovic Woerth just flew in from Rio de Janeiro, and boy, are their arms tired. But the point is they still have arms: When you're wingsuit-flying through the vertical labyrinth of a megacity, keeping hold of one's limbs is never a sure deal.
The pair of extreme sports enthusiasts – Sommer from Norway, Woerth from France – detached from gliders far above the city and made a beeline for central Rio at a time of morning when the streetlights were still gleaming. That was by design, as Sommer explains: "We did not have permission to fly into the city, but to respect the commercial air traffic we did the jump 05:45 in the morning. The first flights arrive at 06:05."
Either their visors misted up or the air that day was foggy (video from the landing zone suggests the latter), because soon enough the human hawks were zooming inside a feijoada-thick blur that must've made it hard to see incoming buildings. That was a crucial impairment, as they planned to fly right through a narrow crack in an skyscraper near the Praça Tiradentes.
Did they make it? To say "barely" would probably be insulting their well-honed skill sets, but they do seem to come close to scraping off a few dozen pounds of themselves on the building's windows. It's a thrilling flight, either way.
It's hard to believe, but this kind of thing has happened in Rio before. In 2009, two fruitbats on a wingsuit flight almost shaved the armpit hairs off of Rio's Christ the Redeemer statue.