CANMORE, Alta. — A wingsuit jumper who died making a jump off a mountain peak in the Rockies didn’t seem to have a care in the world as he prepared for what turned out to be his final outing with friends.
“Sun is shining, institutionalized on Sirius, going wingsuiting,” Gabriel Hubert posted on Facebook on Saturday afternoon. “Thanks life.”
Hubert, 40, has been identified by friends as the person who died Sunday morning as he and two companions jumped off Ha Ling Peak near Canmore, Alta., wearing wingsuits. The outfits have fabric stitched between the arms and body that increases a jumper’s surface area and allows a user to fly impressive horizontal distances at a slower descent rate.
While his two companions landed safely, Hubert, who called the Edmonton-area home, hit the trees without his parachute opening. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
“The only thing we have an understanding of is that his parachute did not deploy,” RCMP Sgt. Ryan Currie said Monday. “I cannot say for certain if it was human error or an equipment malfunction.”
Currie said the practice is not illegal and is quite common in the area, which is popular with thrill-seeking wingsuit jumpers.
“A lot of people do hike the trail up the backside to reach the peak. A lot of people do use that area for BASE jumping with wingsuits and parachutes,” said Currie. “It’s common for people to use it, but not common for us to have accidents of this sort.”
Hubert’s Facebook page has many pictures of him in full skydiving gear in mountainous settings. There are also pictures of his elementary-school-age children playing hockey.
A Vice magazine profile from April called Hubert “Edmonton’s most prolific BASE jumper.”
“We know we’re not normal. Normal people will look at what we do and say we’re stupid, but they don’t get to feel what we feel — the highs, that beautiful feeling of flying.” Hubert is quoted as saying in the article.
“To jump off a cliff and fly down a mountain, it feels so amazing. But on the inverse side of the coin, with great happiness can come great sadness.”
A welder by trade, Hubert was featured in a June 2012 National Geographic video shot in Switzerland on wingsuit jumping. Last month, he boasted on Facebook about making his first windsuit jump on home soil.
There was immediate reaction on social media to Hubert’s death from the BASE- jumping community.
“This is truly a sad day for our community, I have lost a friend, mentor, and roommate,” wrote Lance Lefebvre.
Johnny James added: “That is so Gabe. Making news no matter what. Fly free brother.”
While parachutists experimented with wings as early as the 1930s and there was another wave in the 1960s, commercial wingsuits weren’t developed until the late 1990s in Europe.
Sometimes referred to as flying-squirrel suits or birdman suits, several companies now sell them for between US$700 and US$1,800.
Speeds can exceed 160 km/h.
Last month, two jumpers in Yosemite National Park were killed instantly when they attempted to zoom through a notch in a ridgeline and slammed into a rocky outcropping.
Dean Potter, 43, and Graham Hunt, 29, were experienced at flying in wingsuits. Potter, who had been featured in a National Geographic documentary on wingsuits called “Fly or Die,” was considered one of the biggest inspirations of his generation in the climbing community. Hunt was one of the most prolific BASE jumpers in that part of California.
— By Bill Graveland in Calgary with files from the Associated Press.
Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter
The Canadian Press