An experienced British Base jumper has plunged to his death attempting a daring stunt in Switzerland.
Tragic Gary Harbird, 27, was killed on Monday seconds after he leapt off the country’s notorious Lauterbrunnen Valley and smashed into a rock face.
The experienced adrenaline junkie – who claims to have completed more than 7,000 skydives – leapt off the valley’s infamous ‘High Ultimate Base’ when he crashed.
The Brit had been living in Boston, in the US, but grew up jumping at the popular Dunkeswell airfield skydiving base, near Honiton, in Devon.
His mum Alison was too upset to talk from her home in Honiton today.
Skydive UK Dunkeswell, who run the activity, confirmed some its members knew Mr Harbird but declined to comment further.
Friends today took to online forums to leave their tributes to the Base jumper.
One said Gary was packing parachutes at Dunkeswell from the age of ten.
The friend wrote: ”He started his AFF (accelerated free fall) course at Dunkeswell pretty much on his 16th birthday in 1999, by which time he had ‘helped’ with about 3,000 pack jobs.
”He moved to USA very soon after that to pursue his passion for skydiving which is why few British skydivers will have heard of him.
”Gary was a USPA AFF instructor and tandem instructor. Gary will be sadly missed by all who ever met him. My deepest condolences to his family.”
Fellow base jumpers also left emotional tributes to Mr Harbird.
One unnamed friend, posting on a skydiving website, said: ”Gary meant a lot to me in the few years I got to spend with him.
”My heart hurts and I cannot express the pain I feel with this loss.
”I learned so much from him, he opened my eyes to things I never would have seen without him.
”I made some amazing jumps with him, because of him, jumps I never would have challenged myself to make without his support.
”I will forever miss you and there is a special place in my heart for you.
”Thanks for introducing me to the wonderful world of BASE I only hope I have the courage to keep on with it – I will miss you dearly.”
Mr Harbird was believed to have been working for Jump Town parachute club in Massachusetts.
On his profile on skydiving website Dropzone.com, he said he has been in the sport 10 years and completed 7,000 jumps.
His Facebook page, which was filling with tributes yesterday, features a snap of three jumpers falling from a giant rock as his profile picture.
Pages listed on his Facebook included ‘Skydive UK Dunkeswell’, ‘DUDE! We almost died!!! Yea, but it was fun though!” and ”Tandem BASE”.
Fellow diving instructor Gray Winey paid tribute to Gary – who he described as the ‘best and most likeable base jumper I have ever met.”
Gray, 55, who worked alongside Gary at Jumptown Skydiving Club in Massachusetts said he had known him for around seven years and said he was loved by everyone who met him.
He added that he had left behind girlfriend Lenore Dion, who is in her late 20s’ and said to be ”absolutely devastated” by news of the death.
Gray, who has been skydiving for 33 years, said: ”Gary was without doubt the most likeable guy you could ever meet.
”And he was the best basejumper and instructor. Gary was meticulous in everything he did and left nothing to chance.
”We don’t know the details of the death yet but he had between 6,000 and 7,000 jumps under his belt and whatever happened must have been a tragic accident as he’s so careful.
”The whole basejumping community has been left devastated by news of his death.
”I heard through a mutual friend and it left me speechless.
”He really was the most professional guy you could meet.
”Lenore is absolutely heartbroken by his death. She doesn’t jump herself but has been left absolutely devastated.
”Skydiving really has lost one of the good guys today.”
The Lauterbrunn Valley is one of the most famous places in the world for Base jumping – but it is also one of the most dangerous.
From 1994 to 2009 there were over 20 recorded, Base jumping-related deaths at the spot.
Base jumping – sometimes written as B.A.S.E jumping – is an activity that employs an initially packed parachute to jump from fixed objects, as with paragliding.
Base jumping is one of the world’s most dangerous recreational activities and in 2002 it was estimated that there were 60 fatalities, accounting for 1.7 per cent of participants.
Lauterbrunnen Picture Credit: Jared Smith on Flickr