— ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) — Plans for extreme athlete and skydiver Felix Baumgartner to make a death-defying, 23-mile free fall into the southeastern New Mexico desert were on hold Tuesday morning due to winds, but his team was still hoping the weather would clear after sunrise in time to make the jump.
The 43-year-old former military parachutist from Austria planned to take off in a 55-story, ultra-thin and easy-to-tear helium balloon that would take him into the stratosphere for a jump that he hopes will make him the first skydiver to break the sound barrier and shatter three other world records.
Mission meteorologist Don Day said winds on the ground were an ideal 1 to 2 mph, but were 20 mph at the balloon-top level of 700 feet.
"We need 3 mph or less at 800 feet," Day said, putting the chance of a launch Tuesday at "50-50. When the sun comes up we will know a lot more. We are very, very close today."
Day said a final decision on whether to make the launch, which had already been delayed one day, would have to be made by about 8 a.m. Mountain Time as the launch window closes at about 10 a.m. and it takes about an hour and half to fill the balloon and get Baumgartner suited up and ready.
The balloon had been scheduled to launch about 7 a.m. from a field near the airport in a flat dusty town that until now has been best known for a rumored 1947 UFO landing.
If the mission goes, Baumgartner will make a nearly three-hour descent to 120,000 feet, then take a bunny-style hop from a pressurized capsule into a near-vacuum where there is barely any oxygen to begin what is expected to be the fastest, farthest free fall from the highest-ever manned balloon.