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Daredevil Chuck Berry spreads his wings

Media release 05 March 2003

Daredevil Chuck Berry spreads his wings across the breadth of New Zealand.


After months of preparation Queenstown daredevil John ‘Chuck’ Berry has completed the longest unassisted flight from coast to coast of New Zealand.

With the aid of a special ‘wing suit’ Chuck made the flight between Cape Maria Van Diemen and Tapotupoto Bay, a narrow isthmus of 6.5km coast to of coast.

Chuck and wing suit cameraman Sol Vallis exited a Cessna fixed wing plane at 15,000 feet at a height of 20,000 from the West Coast near Cape Maria Van Diemen at the tip of New Zealand. Below the sweeping capes of New Zealand’s longest beach - 90 Mile Beach – provided the backdrop to this ultimate challenge. Gliding across the breadth of the Island Chuck deployed a parachute to land at Tapotupoto Bay on the East Coast.

The flight was made possible thanks to a special wing suit – developed by a French man who studied the Madagascan flying squirrel. The suit worn by Chuck for the flight was a custom-made Italian suit with wings under the arms and legs.

“The wing suit takes flying to another level. Instead of a vertical fall there is a horizontal glide ratio of 2.5:1 allowing me to fly further through the air than fall. It’s a total body flight with your whole body in freefall,” says Berry.

That’s not to say the task is an easy one. Although the wing suit does allow horizontal flight it can create complications.


“Because your whole body is contained within the suit you have to use your arms or move your shoulders to change how you fly. Add to this a parachute and you’re having to coordinate two systems together. It’s not just a parachute but a parachute with wings.”

However, for the man who has completed over 45000 sky dives and pioneered BASE jumping in the South Island with a cool 250 BASE jumps to his credit, flying across the breadth of New Zealand was an ultimate challenge.

“No one has done this before so it makes sense that I would do it! The fact that I am flying in a wing suit makes a whole new level of skydiving possible. You have the theory but what I love is being able to turn that theory into reality!”

The flight team based themselves at Ahipara Houhora near Ahipara, Northland – one of the furthest points of the North Island of New Zealand.


“We were lucky with the weather conditions - early morning clear skies and light to moderate winds. It was perfect!” says Berry.

Chuck lives by the aviation philosophy that in doing anything, you must do it 100 percent correct, first time, and it must never fail. He combines a background in aviation; he had a career as an aircraft engineer for Air New Zealand, with years of experience in skydiving.

“Everything I’ve done has been like cross training for this flight. The ‘wing suit’ lets me bring a number of these skills together in one act.”

So what is it like to fly in a wing suit?

“Imagine a dream where you’re flying. It’s just like that! Your arms and your hands are your wings and that’s what you’re flying with. Just imagine what you’d do if you wanted to fly. You are the wing, you are the flying machine.”


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