Article of the month :

The Longest Flight

"Only he can be happy, who can make his the present hour, for today he has lived." (Gil Delamare)

Text and photos by Patrick Passe

Patrick de Gayardon's large silhouette approached the edge of the door. A large grin enlightened his face, his eyes sparkling once again at the idea of another very special skydiving week we were going to share, here in Hawaii. As usual, he dragged his heavy bags and cases. They had probably cost him an extra fee on his flight from Florida. Of course, he had his latest gadgets, those that allowed him to go even further into his favourite universe : the sky. He let his belongings fall down on the ground : a giant 8 ft skysurf, a brand new tandem parachute from Parachutes de France, a bag containing a few wingsuits (1) redesigned by Toutazimut and two Vector harnesses/containers, equipped with a flexible deflector on the back of the main canopy's container. He had just arrived in that small house we were to share. A large bay-window provided an uncomparable view on the North Shore waves. He was sure he would have some good times here. He was glad to see us again. Wendy Smith, Katarina Ollikainen, Adrian Nicholas and myself gathered around him as he started unpacking and programmed the next skydiving day. Before that, he had some adjustments to do, of course!

Our friend, Guy Banal, had picked him up at the Honolulu airport. Patrick and Guy had been partners for 10 months in the "Pacific International Skydiving Center", a center that is probably offering the most beautiful view to a skydiver in freefall. I wanted that place as a scenery for my next movie. We were to shoot a skysurf tandem with freeflying scene. Patrick and Wendy were to fly the giant skysurf together, followed by freeflying Adrian. In the meantime, we had scheduled a couple of practice jumps to fly close to each other with wingsuits. The real shooting was scheduled for next summer.

Here, in Hawaii, Katarina was in charge of making and adjusting our wings.That kind of programme was Patrick's lifeÜ: preparing, thinking, trying, training, making. He could work with lots of people, but with his friends, he would keep his temper much longer!

Our small house on the shore was rented throughout the year by the Pacific International Skydiving Center. Tom, the rigger (2), lived there. The living room had become a sewing and packing room, with a couple of sewing machines, which delighted Patrick. He always needed it. We spent 4 days on North Shore, making only a few jumps a day because the wind would always increase by the end of the morning. The skysurf tandem and freeflying shooting was taking shape. We had perfected a nice move : Adrian would fly on his back, holding Patrick who shared the giant skysurf with Wendy. The three of them then started a continuous, soft, quick rotation. Those first jumps were also an opportunity for Patrick and Wendy to improve their loops and helicopters together. Patrick was happy, everything going as he wished. One or two wingsuit jumps changed the rhythm of those mornings. I had the opportunity to see Patrick flying by my side for the first time. He had more than 500 jumps with his wings and he showed me his ease by flying on his back, barrel rolling, coming to my left or to my right side, flying above or below me. In the evening, we would have dinner on the terrace. Patrick enjoyed telling us about the sensations he had during his wingsuit flights, into the Grand Canyon, in Norway or in Chamonix, France. He also said he had spent a lot of time studying the topography of mountains. He was looking for and had already found places for BASE jumps he could make only with his wings. Jumping from planes or from BASE sites, he wanted to fly very close to the mountains for many seconds before flying to a valley that would give him enough height to open his parachute. He kept trying to improve his efficiency. His next suit was to include an integrated harness, the profile of the wings was to be different, and he already jumped with a deflector on the bottom of his container.

That afternoon, the weather was not really nice. Patrick "Deug'" had decided to "warm up the sewing machine" : "I disassemble, I unstitch, I sew, I reassemble, that's ugly", he thought, "I can't sew properly, but it works." He loved that, he was so curious to try that new adjustment of his, which would probably be modified a couple of jumps later...
On that day, he had worked on his deflector and had disassembled it. How come no angel came and told him : "Hey, Patrick, be careful, pay attention to what you're doing, for tomorrow, your friends are going to miss you" ? In the evening, Patrick reassembled his deflector. He didn't know he had just finished his fatal adjustment.

Monday, April 13, 7 am. "Good morning Patrick !" In a few hours, you will leave us, if we knew that right now, we would stop the Earth from turning. We make our first skysurf tandem jump, it is the best of the lot. Patrick and Wendy take Adrian into the rotation. The freeflyer follows the dance without stretching his arm. I have to load my 16mm camera.
Deug and Adrian take advantage of the pause to make a wingsuit jump. Adrian is delighted by their flight. They fly over the North Shore, side by side, or crossing paths. Adrian uses his suit efficiently, Patrick is glad to see his teammate almost has the same efficiency as himself. Adrian can see Patrick's last smile before he slightly bends his shoulders to improve his horizontal speed and fly to the drop zone.
While Adrian opens at 3500 ft, ìDeugî goes on for a little while, as usual. He keeps tracking on a horizontal distance of approximately 2000 ftÖ..

Remember, Patrick, your early years with the "Lyonnais" gang... "Blue sky, Black death", that was your war-cry. What was your point ? Challenging Fortune, or just having fun ? You never hesitated to say the forbidden word : "impact". Talking about it with no taboo made you laugh so much.
You went in right in front of me, you stupid friend. Why didn't you take the time to check your adjustment? I saw your last 1000 ft, all your handles in your hands, and I heard your scream, full of life and adrenaline. Did you enjoy that "last rush", that "magnificent vision" you talked about during your "Lyonnais" times ?
Then you disappeared behind the banana trees and we just fell apart. You set your soul free on the spot, at the end of that morning. They took your flesh aeroplane away. In the evening, your impact point was worshipped: an improvised cross, shells and flowers. With a few beers we toasted your salut.
The whole world already talks about you, you just entered into your legend. In 5 days, your flesh aeroplane will fly back to Lyon, France, covered with a pareo. Thank you Adrian, for pressuring Hawaian administration to react at such short notice. Thank you, the Sector team, for taking part also.

Your family will cremate your flesh aeroplane. Your ashes will then be shared and sent to fly over North Shore, Deland, Gap, Chamonix and New Zealand. We're going to leave this wonderful country, we just have a little time left for a last walk, a last sunset with Guy. Above the horizon, the sun is still warm. Surfers go for the tube, expressing the energy of their souls. Your energy passes through the ocean spray, toward a new long tracking I hope you'll find amazing. The sun reddens and descends over the horizon. It's going to disappear. It's getting cold.
You must still feel its light and warmth. We all bid you farewell. We'll still talk about Patrick de Gayardon's legend in many years from now.
I hope you won't hold a grudge for telling your true story, it's so incredible. Like for each of your adventures, I think I told it like you would have liked me to.

(1) wingsuits : jumpsuits with "bat" wings.
(2) rigger : parachute packing and repairing specialist.
Causes for the accident

Patrick de Gayardon might have died ten times during his skydiving adventures, but he always calculated the risks carefully. All his first times of stunts were meticulously prepared, without anything left to chance. Patrick died at the end of a practice jump with his wingsuit.

In order to improve his efficiency, he had designed a kind of deflector he could fix on the bottom of his main container, as shown on our photograph. That deflector filled the pit of his back, allowing a continuous airflow. This allowed him to improve his performance by 10% with his wingsuit. The deflector was made of cordura and filled with foam. Inside it, he had managed some place for the pilot chute. The deflector was removable : on the bottom, it was maintained in place by a zipper ; on top, the deflector had two large line laces : one on the left of the deflector, and one on the right. The laces went through openings he had prepared in each upper corner of the main container. Those laces therefore went under the side flaps, approximately one inch, before coming under the protection of a velcroed flap. To make a small modification to the deflector, Patrick had disassembled then reassembled it without opening the main container. During reassembling, one of the laces went through two lines of the main canopy.

Patrick pulled his pilot chute below 2000 ft, probably even lower. The pilot chute went up, as normal opening the flaps. The main canopy deployment bag, however, could not go up and open, since it was linked with two lines by the deflector lace. Patrick cut away and opened his reserve. The pilot chute and the deployment bag of the reserve canopy got entangled with those of the main canopy. Both deployment bags floated behind his back and never opened. He didn't have an AAD which wouldn't have made a difference anyway.

He was found with both handles in his hands. He hadn't disconnected the wings of his wingsuit. If he had, or had had the time to, the absence of more or less stretched wings might have allowed a more direct airflow, hence less depression in the back. The reserve might have found a small chance to go up without getting entangled with the pilot chute and the deployment bag of the main canopy.


Warning: the English translations in this text may not all be correct. Thanks for your comprehension and please address any comment to me (Jean-Francois RIPOCHE,

Retour au sommaire