SANGATTE (France): A French daredevil who spent years developing a jet-powered hoverboard zoomed across the English Channel on Sunday, fulfilling his quest after pulling off a tricky refuelling manoeuvre that cut short his first attempt 10 days ago.
Franky Zapata blasted off on his “Flyboard” from Sangatte on the northern coast of France at 8:17am for the 35-kilometre trip to St Margaret’s Bay in Dover.
Escorted by three helicopters, he soared across the water in the early morning light and landed 22 minutes later in the picturesque bay, to the applause of dozens of onlookers and journalists.
“I’m feeling good. I’m feeling happy, I’m feeling lucky. This is just an amazing moment for me,” Zapata said after landing.
He said the indicators in the visor of his helmet showed he raced over the busy shipping lane at a speed of 160-170 km/h, doing zig-zags as he neared the coast to try to ease the fatigue in his legs.
Minutes after descending from the metal platform where he landed his craft, Zapata broke down in tears of emotion while talking on the phone to his 10-year-old son, who could be heard saying, “Dad, you’re the best!”
At a press conference later, Zapata said: “People are passionate about this, everyone dreams about flying,” he said, recalling his fascination with the hoverboard in the 1985 hit movie Back to the Future, set in 2015.
“And then 2015 came around, and there were still no hoverboards, so we said ‘OK, we’re going to do it’.”
Zapata, a 40-year-old former jet-ski champion, made his first attempt on July 25, to coincide with the 110th anniversary of Louis Bleriot’s historic first crossing of the Channel by plane.
But he had to be fished from the water after failing to land on a boat to refuel — his backpack carries some 35kg of kerosene, enough to keep him aloft for around 10 minutes.
Asked if he considered himself Bleriot’s successor, Zapata told BFM television: “It’s not really comparable, he was one of the first men to fly. Let’s just say that I achieved my dream.”
This time the refuelling boat was bigger and had a larger landing area, and French navy vessels in the area kept an eye out in case of trouble.
Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2019