Legendary Air Force pilot who parachuted 19 miles above Earth dies at 94
Colonel Joseph Kittinger, a retired Air Force pilot, died Friday in Florida.
Kittinger, 94, has held the record for the highest parachute jump for more than 50 years.
The cause of his death, which was announced by former US Representative John Mica and other friends, was lung cancer.
A former Air Force captain and pilot, Kittinger achieved international fame when he completed three jumps in 10 months from a gondola that was hoisted into the stratosphere by large helium balloons.
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On his first jump in November 1959, Kittinger nearly died when his equipment malfunctioned after jumping 14.5 miles above the surface.
He lost consciousness as he launched into a spin that was 22 times the force of gravity, but was saved when his automatic chute opened.
About a month later, he made his second jump without a hitch of just over 14 miles.
Kittinger’s record fell on August 16, 1960, in the New Mexico desert. However, this time his pressure suit malfunctioned as he stood up, causing his right hand to swell to twice its normal size before jumping 19 miles above the surface.
He exceeded a speed of 600 miles per hour before the gradually thickening air slowed his fall to around 150 mph when his parachute deployed at 18,000 feet.
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“There’s no way to visualize speed,” the Tampa native told Florida Trend magazine in 2011. “There’s nothing you can see to see how fast you’re going. no depth perception. If you’re driving a car on the road and you close your eyes, you have no idea of your speed. It’s the same if you’re plummeting from space. It doesn’t There’s no road signs You know you’re going really fast, but you don’t feel You don’t have a 614 mph wind blowing at you I could only hear myself breathing into the helmet.
Kittinger remained in the Air Force after his jumps and served three tours of duty during the Vietnam War.
In May 1972 he was shot but ejected and later captured, spending 11 months in a POW camp in Hanoi and suffering torture.
Kittinger retired from the Air Force in 1978 and became a local icon in the Orlando area.
His record was broken in 2012 by Austrian Felix Baumgartner, jumping 24 miles over the New Mexico desert and reaching a speed of 844 miles per hour. Kittinger was an adviser.
He is survived by his wife, Sherri.
“Joe will be greatly missed, but his achievements and legacy will be long admired and remembered by explorers around the world,” Explorers Club President Richard Garriott de Cayeux wrote in a statement.
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Club member Kittinger was a distinguished recipient of the 2001 Explorers Club Medal.
Garriott de Cayeux noted that, among his many accolades, he was the first person to cross the Atlantic solo in a gasoline-powered balloon, as well as the first person to fully witness the curvature of the Earth.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.