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Daredevil Frenchman Franky Zapata fails in flyboard bid to cross the Channel

Franky Zapata gets ready for take off on a flyboard from Sangatte to Dover, in Sangatte, France, July 25, 2019.
Franky Zapata gets ready for take off on a flyboard from Sangatte to Dover, in Sangatte, France, July 25, 2019. Pascal Rossignol, Reuters

A daredevil French inventor on Thursday failed in his attempt to fly across the Channel from France to Britain standing on a jet-powered "flyboard", having to be rescued after falling into the sea, his team said.

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Franky Zapata, 40, a former jet-skiing champion, took off successfully from Sangatte in northern France but then fell into the Channel during a tricky mid-sea refuelling stop, a member of his team told AFP.

In a scene resembling a science fiction film, Zapata climbed up a platform in Sangatte, stepped onto his flyboard and then zoomed into the sky to begin his attempt.

French inventor Franky Zapata flies his jet-powered "Flyboard" down the Champs-Elysees at the Bastille Day parade in Paris 14 July 2019.
French inventor Franky Zapata flies his jet-powered "Flyboard" down the Champs-Elysees at the Bastille Day parade in Paris 14 July 2019. Ludovic MARIN / AFP

Bleriot tribute

In a tribute to past aviationheroes, Zapata has picked the day that marks 110 years since pioneer Louis Bleriot made the first airplane flight across the Channel on July 25, 1909.

He hopes to make the 35-kilometre (22-mile) crossing in 20 minutes, keeping an average speed of 140 kilometres an hour (87 mph) at a height of 15-20 metres (50-65 feet) above the water.

His plan hit problems initially as the French maritime authorities refused to give the project their blessing -- while stopping short of an outright ban -- due to busy shipping traffic in the Channel.

But the maritime authorities said they lifted their "unfavourable opinion" after receiving guarantees from Zapata about his refuelling plans and safety.

'Follow in the footsteps' 

The biggest problem on Thursday could prove to be wind strength, which Zapata said it "could make the crossing more complex".

"We created a new way of flying. We don't use wings. You are like a bird, it is your body that is flying. It is a boyhood dream," he told reporters ahead of the flight.

Zapata sprung to national prominence at the July 14 Bastille Day military parade when he soared above the Place de la Concorde in Paris in front of world leaders including President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He carried a rifle during that demonstration and the French defence ministry said it was studying how the flyboard could be used by its troops.

Zapata's flyboard, which is about the size of a skateboard, is powered by five small jet engines that allow the rider to fly at speeds of 190 kilometres an hour (118 mph).

It is fuelled by kerosene stored in the rider's backpack and Zapata will carry 47 kilos (104 pounds) of it on Thursday.

If all goes to plan, he will make one refuelling stop on a boat mid-Channel to pick up a second pack of kerosene.

"We want to follow a little bit in the footsteps of the pioneers of aviation," he added.

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