Documentary

Daredevils stare death in the eye as they BASE jump off the Drakensberg

'Barrier of Spears' is a documentary about the vertical cliffs of the Drakensberg — and the untamed men who flew there

03 March 2019 - 00:07 By CLAIRE KEETON
'Barrier of Spears' gives viewers a look at the Red Bull Airforce team's BASE jumps off the Drakensberg.
'Barrier of Spears' gives viewers a look at the Red Bull Airforce team's BASE jumps off the Drakensberg.
Image: Tyrone Bradley/Red Bull content pool

Miles Daisher has flown in a wingsuit, free as a bird, thousands of times and has more BASE jumps than any human on the planet. And the fact he is alive — after 5,289 BASE jumps, for which he holds the world record — is astounding.

This extreme sport has a death rate of about one casualty per 60 jumpers, according to a Swedish study. 

"My superpower is that I'm lucky," says 49-year-old Daisher, who jumps at every opportunity he gets.

What's gripping about a new video filmed in the Drakensberg, celebrating the feats of Daisher and his teammates in the Red Bull Air Force, is not only the risks they take flying amid high mountains like these, but the wild beauty of the Berg.

The documentary Barrier of Spears is a celebration of untamed men, and mountains. "The Berg is a wonderland of vertical cliffs," said Daisher. "A mystical, magical place."

LIVING THE DREAM

Daisher, Jon DeVore and Mike Swanson were the first men to fly their bodies in wingsuits in the Berg, getting a unique perspective of its peaks and towers. Much like the majestic lammergeier vultures who soar above the range.

This is Daisher's take on his sport: "You jump off with a wingsuit, going forward up to 200km/hour, screaming towards the ground like a torpedo and then you flare the wingsuit, open the parachute and land safely. The main aim is a happy landing ... otherwise you don't get to walk away."

On a flying adventure when interviewed, the US pilot said: "I'm in warm Mexico, landing on a beach, when it is snowy back home. I'm riding the waves, living the dream."

The specialised human flight team came to SA because of his friend Julian Boulle, "my favourite wingsuiter", who got permission for them to fly in the Drakensberg.

Boulle and the team scouted their landings on foot, startling baboons, and were lucky to have a helicopter to take them to the top of the 3,000m-plus escarpment for their jumps.

WATCH | The trailer for Barrier of Spears

They did a warm-up jump and flight from the Sentinel before taking off from the top of the Eastern Buttress, as soon as swirling clouds and winds gave them a window. This was no calm, blue-skies day.

"It looked quite scary a couple of times. We had to sit and wait ... then it was time to go, to bust our moves and make it happen," said Daisher. "And we lived to jump another day."

NO ROOM FOR ERROR

He's had a couple of close calls, he said, with bad exits off a cliff. "At the back of my mind I thought this is crazy, but I had to stay focused to fly the crash, and I made it," he said of a bad jump off a Swiss peak.

When skydiving out of a plane, people have time to correct errors they may make, but with BASE jumping or wingsuit flying, pilots jump off close to the ground, which rushes up at them. No room for error.

Daisher started skydiving in 1995. Two years later he was BASE jumping and then got caught up in the magic of wingsuits - flying your body with wings. "Back then there was a glider ratio of 2m forward for 1m drop, now it's almost 4:1," he said.

This means he can fly 200km forward for 50km down.

"Now we can fly out to where it is safe and turn back, and fly features safely defying gravity," said Daisher, who saw a Norwegian pilot go up 81m in China in a wingsuit.

"We are a small group doing what we do, and we go to the coolest places on Earth," said Daisher, describing "super, giant cliffs" he has hurled himself off.

The Red Bull Airforce team in their wingsuits.
The Red Bull Airforce team in their wingsuits.
Image: Tyrone Bradley/Red Bull content pool

"We have all become mountaineers and meteorologists … We are careful about what we do. We want to live long enough to tell the stories."

Daisher has flown above the Table Cloth on Table Mountain and jumped off the Ponte Tower in Hillbrow, Joburg.

Success takes training and planning, and there are moments of boredom on the way to the next adventure, he said.

He misses his wife and two kids when he's away from home in Twin Falls, Idaho, where he lives near the I.B. Perrine Bridge.

"My hobby is my career and I'm getting my butt to work," said Daisher, who has his family's support and is glad that he can "Facetime" with them when he's off tripping.

A world champion, who also holds the record for the most (63) BASE jumps in 24 hours, he said: "When I'm home, I do at least one jump off the bridge every day. I will say 'I'm going to the bridge', and my wife will say: 'Can you pick up milk on the way home?'"

• View Barrier of Spears for free here.


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