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Mentor Helps Skydiver Break World Record

On October 14, 2012, the Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner broke two world records that had stood for over fifty years. He smashed the previous world record for the fastest dive, breaking the sound barrier and reaching a velocity of nearly 834 miles per hour. He also broke the world record for the highest freefall, jumping out of a balloon 128,000 feet (or 24 miles) above New Mexico.

But the 43-year-old Baumgartner gladly admits that he couldn't have done it without the help of his mentor—the previous world record holder for both records, 84-year-old Joe Kittinger. Kittinger, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, has been an integral part of Baumgartner's team. Months prior to Baumgartner's record-breaking dive, Kittinger provided him with advice and encouragement whenever the younger man doubted his ability. Right before the actual jump, Kittinger told Baumgartner, "All right, step up to the exterior step. Start the cameras. And our guardian angel will take care of you now." During the fall, Kittinger's reassuring voice from mission control guided Baumgartner throughout the dive, especially during one particularly tense moment. Early in the dive, Baumgartner started spinning out of control—the same problem that had nearly killed Kittinger during his dive. Baumgartner kept talking to Kittinger, whose deep voice offered reassurance. In fact, Baumgartner didn't allow any other voice than Kittinger's in his helmet.

When the dive was finished, Kittinger had only praise for Baumgartner's new world records. Kittinger said, "Felix did a great job, and it was a great honor to work with this brave guy."

An article in National Geographic highlighted the special bond between the two men. Prior to the jump, Kittinger said, "I'll be the only one who knows how Felix feels at that moment when he jumps from that step, 'cause I've done it."

Baumgartner agreed: "[Joe] knows how lonely you are at that altitude." Then he added, "It feels like, if Joe's there, nothing can go wrong."

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