Looking like a superhero, the French inventor of an airborne hoverboard has flown part-way across the English Channel on his personal flying machine before crashing into the sea.
Unharmed and undeterred by Thursday’s mid-Channel dunking, “Le Rocketman”, Franky Zapata, said he planned to try again within the week.
The 40-year-old inventor collided with a refuelling boat several minutes into his flight on Thursday. The accident destroyed his futuristic transportation, a version of the Flyboard that his company sells commercially, and tipped him into the ocea.
But Mr Zapata was undeterred.
“We won’t give up until we succeed,” he said after being rescued from the Channel’s choppy waters.
Mr Zapata, a former jet-skiing champion, had already wowed adoring crowds as Paris’s showpiece Bastille Day parade on his turbine engine-powered board, soaring high above the crowds and the Champs-Elysee in front of President Emmanuel Macron and other EU leaders.
He announced his ambitious plan fly the skateboard-sized invention – which can reach speeds of up to 190km/h and run for 10 minutes – across the English Channel.
Merci Monsieur Le Président c’est un honneur https://t.co/dlKsgpuAgM
— Franky Zapata (@frankyzapata) July 14, 2019
On Thursday, those plans came to fruition, when Mr Zapata took off from the French coastal town of Sangatte, watched by hundreds of excited onlookers.
He hoped to travel 36 kilometres to a landing spot just east of Dover, in south-east Britain.
Propelled by a power pack full of kerosene, Mr Zapata knew he had to refuel his hoverboard from a boat mid-journey.
Reaching speeds up to 177km/h, he travelled about 20 kilometres – more than halfway to Britain and further than he had ever flown his board.
“I felt really great. It’s just fantastic,” he said later.
“I was flying. It was like a dream.”
But as Mr Zapata descended to refuel just 10 minutes after take-off, the tiny platform where he was meant to land – just a metre square – was moving too much in the waves. He was unable to grab on to it, and plunged into the sea.
Later, the inventor winced as he described the “disaster” that befell him mid-crossing.
He said his helmet filled with water and he struggled for breath. But he was quickly rescued by French divers, and escaped with just a scratch on his arm.
frankyzapata "We will rebuild it and do it again"
— Schnuck Networks (@schnucknetwork) July 25, 2019
“It is a huge disappointment,” a member of his team told France’s BFM TV shortly after the flight. “He must have missed the platform by just a few centimetres.”
“We practised this manoeuvre dozens of times in heavier seas.”
Mr Zapata had scheduled Thursday’s flight to coincide with the 110th anniversary of the first flight across the Channel, by French aviator Louis Bleriot on July 25, 1909 – who also left from Sangatte.
He has already said he plans another attempt, reportedly next week.