-- While Red Bull athletes are known for pushing the limits, this may have been Sean MacCormac’s most extreme mission yet — skysurfing next to an active lightning storm.
MacCormac, 41, is one of the most accomplished aerial extreme athletes in the world and a flyer in the elite Red Bull Air Force.
He and the Red Bull team chose Clewiston, Florida, as the ideal destination to skysurf in a thunderstorm. Central Florida is one of the most lightning-prone zones in the world, and the state sees the most lightning-related deaths in the country.
When “Nightline” asked MacCormac why he would attempt such a risky mission, he replied, “Out of all my experiences, people will [ask], ‘Oh, where's your favorite place to jump? What's your craziest thing or whatever?’ And, in all my time training, what we're doing here is the one experience that I've had that wasn't really able to get chronicled properly.”
He added: “And because it's exciting. And you'll dig it for sure.”
But, of course, there is a great deal of danger involved in this stunt. Seventy percent of lightning never even hits the ground, which means it stays up in the clouds. MacCormac said he is aware of the danger, but feels confident in the mission because this is something he’s done before.
“I have experience doing these. So like, I've been in this environment before. And it worked out fine,” MacCormac said. “I think you'd be amazed at how calculated this mission is.”
The goal of the mission is making sure the jump is perfectly documented. The entire team assembled for the task, including Red Bull Air Force Captain Jon Devore and professional aerial photographer Craig O’Brien. They captured MacCormac’s every jump until they get the perfect image of him right next to a lightning cloud.
And to make sure MacCormac was able to find the right kind of storms, they brought in thunderstorm specialist Joe Thompson, a meteorologist with UBIMET, a private weather service provider.
“I’m a meteorologist, not a psychologist,” Thompson said when asked why someone would attempt such a dangerous mission. “Normally as a meteorologist you’re telling people where not to go, how to stay away from the storm. This is the complete opposite.”
After several attempted jumps into storm clouds, MacCormac finally found the perfect one. He was able to successfully skysurf as lightning flashed behind him.
Although he has a wife and three kids, MacCormac says he doesn’t think about his family while doing a dive, instead focusing on the task at hand.
“I have always had a different approach. As a Hollywood stunt person, we’ve always tried to be more about risk management and trying to coordinate something that can be done, repeated safely,” MacCormac said. “And I think that’s always been my motivation and my goal.”
Before skysurfing, MacCormac was hooked on skydiving, which he experienced for the first time at the age of 18.
“I mean, I felt spiritual about it. It was really beautiful to me and could not have felt more present and where I needed to be," he said.