Extreme Stuntman Jeb Corliss Was 'Gripped With Fear' During 'Flying Dagger' Stunt

Jeb Corliss, 37, said he wasn't sure the China stunt would happen.

ByABC News
October 3, 2013, 4:32 PM

Oct. 3, 2013— -- Extreme stuntman Jeb Corliss knows what it feels like to fly at terminal velocity from 4,000 feet, straight into dagger-like mountain cliffs, aiming for the narrowest gap and knowing that one wrong move could mean death.

The 37-year-old New Mexico native successfully completed a record-breaking helicopter jump through the jagged cliffs of the Janglangshan Mountain in China's Zhejiang Province last Saturday -- the first person ever to do so. It was a stunt so daring, complex and, well, insane, that he couldn't resist, but it almost didn't happen.

"This is absolutely terrifying," Corliss said. "If this doesn't scare you, I don't know what does."

Corliss spent months training with high-tech help, simulating his exit from the chopper, flying through a crack 15 feet wide, 900 feet tall and three football fields long at points, and landing on a narrow mountain edge.

But bad weather conditions, including rain and high winds, plagued his practice days leading up to the stunt -- called "the flying dagger." Ideally, there would be zero wind, but on stunt day, Corliss faced winds that were at least 10 miles per hour, and it seemed as if the stunt was going to be called off.

But then Corliss went up in the helicopter for one last look at the conditions and discovered the winds had calmed. He decided to go for it and jumped.

"The moment I get out of the helicopter is fear," he said. "When I am totally terrified, my brain focuses completely. ... I can feel the air touching my skin."

In five seconds, at 122 miles per hour, Corliss became the first person ever to pull off "the flying dagger." Minutes after landing, he explained what was going through his mind.

"All of a sudden the feat gripped me hard, and I started getting really scared, and it became so overwhelming I started crying" he said. "I'm like, 'Dude, this is bad, something bad is going to happen, and I was gripped with fear."

But then he soared through the mountain's crevice.

"All of a sudden I come in," Corliss said. "The feeling was so powerful. There are no words to describe it."

Corliss said he is not a daredevil and he hates being frightened, although he said he loves what it feels like to push through that fear. But the man who skirts death for a living said he is terrified most of the time when he performs his stunts.

A veteran wingsuit pilot, Corliss has swooped through waterfalls, around the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio Janeiro, and over the Swiss mountains, soaring with his man-made wings.

"I have looked up at the sky since I was young and I have watched birds fly and I have thought, 'Man, wouldn't that -- that is just -- who wouldn't want to do that?'" he said.

And he is not alone. There is the Nascent World Wingsuit league, or as Corliss calls it, "Formula-1 in the Sky." Corliss is unarguably the sport's Top Gun.

Others who tried to be the best in the sport have not always fared so well. Mark Sutton, the stunt flyer who played James Bond during the Summer Olympic opening ceremonies in London, fell to his death in August during a jump in the Swiss Alps.

Corliss seemed to have the golden touch -- until last January, when he was training on Table Mountain in South Africa and slammed into sheer granite at 120 miles per hour. It nearly killed him.

"I didn't think I was dead, I knew I was dead," Corliss said. "You do not hit at terminal velocity and survive. It is impossible."

But almost two years later, he was fully recovered from his injuries and prepping for "the flying dagger" stunt in China, not letting even the fear of certain death stand in his way.

"It's about turning a dream into a reality," he said. "It is about making a goal, about getting somewhere."