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Soaring over the seas at Worthing Birdman
A committed hang glider battled winds of up to 20 knots to smash his own record twice in one weekend after launching himself 106m (347ft) and then 141m (463ft) from Worthing Pier on Saturday.
Ron Freeman, 57, was forced to take his hang glider on a sideways route because of the wind direction, which meant he could not claim the £10,000 jackpot on offer for a first ever 100- metre flight.
His forward distance off Worthing Pier was just 63m on his first attempt, but Mr Freeman was delighted to set what he claimed was a new total distance record and broke down in tears after his flight.
Speaking on Saturday after his first record-breaking flight he said: “It was the most perfect flight I've ever done. I got it spot on. I was determined to do the 100 metres. It's never been done before.”
The flyer fromNewbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumberland, insisted that he did not mind “one bit” missing out on the five-figure sum.
He added: “The jackpot distance is straight out from the pier but I decided not to go for that because the wind was too strong.
“I’ve smashed my best distance by quite a bit. I wanted to prove to myself that I can do 100 metres and it's finally happened. I’m going to celebrate tonight with a lovely meal and a bottle of wine with my wife.”
Lewis Crathern, the Worthing kitesurfer who has jumped both Worthing Pier and the Palace Pier in Brighton, co-hosted the event was thrilled by what he saw from the platform.
He said: “I’ve got two highlights really – the lady who went off for Specsavers dressed as an eyeball is the first.
“I’ve never seen anyone up there who didn’t want to be there as much as her, but she still did it.
“It’s great for the spirit of the Birdman, and my second highlight is Ron Freeman – the guy who always seems to deliver even when the conditions are against him.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for these guys with hang gliders, I mean everyone that goes off is pretty crazy, but if these guys go upside downor catch a wing they are going to get injured.
“One day, hopefully, one of these guys have to be able to do a 100m straight out.
“He’s very smart and honest is Ron, and he knewhe couldn’t go straight out with the crosswind so went diagonally and nearly made it all the way to the beach, but if there’s anyone who can go 100m in a straight line – it’s him.”
Onemanwho did not get any luckwas Edward Ling, who travelled nearly 200 miles from Droitwich to take part and had to abandon his wings.
He said: “I was terrified.
“The plane took a long time to assemble, about three of us were there for two hours.
“We managed to get it up to the platform in one piece without any damage but then once we got up there it was literally lifting people off the ground.
“It started to break up unfortunately, and the chief steward told us it wasn’t safe to fly and we’d have to jump so that’s what we did.
“I jumped off and you really do pick up a lot of speed when you jump off.
“I was jumping for Unicef’s Syrian Emergency appeal, and I’ve really enjoyed my day.
“Especially once I’d jumped in and I was in the water so I could have a little ride on the jetski and a swim into the shore.”
As well as the serious flyers, dozens of jumpers took the plunge in the name of charity, including Worthing-based actress Alex Childs and her partner in crime Becky Daley.
Alex said: “I absolutely loved it.
“I did a sky dive last year so I’m a bit of adrenaline junkie anyway so I thought it was amazing, but then I landed correctly, unlike Becky.
“If someone offered me the chance to do it again – I’d do it straight away.
“I’d absolutely love to do it again next year, but it’s difficult fundraising for something you’ve already done.
“I made a pact with myself to do something exciting and terrifying every year, so although I was terrified, I might look for an even bigger challenge next year.
“WhenIwas up on the platformitwas like an out of body experience, it was ridiculously surreal.
“I’d built myself up into a frenzy all week, so to finally be up there was a bit of a relief.”
But Becky mistimed her jump, leaving her with a severely bruised lower back.
She said: “I was jumping for my cousin who died last year at the age of 33 from cancer.
“The jump was the scariest thing I've ever done in my life, but I am so chuffed I did it and raised so much money for charity.
“Apart from a really bruised back from where I back flopped, I survived it in one piece.”
On the pair’s just giving page (justgiving.com/alexandbecky), they have hit £975.57 for World Cancer Research.
The event drew an estimated 20,000 people to the town with spectators and competitors flocking from around the globe.
Chairman of theWorthing TownCentre Initiative which organised the event Chris Spratt said: “We took over from Bognor, and one pier’s loss is another pier’s gain.
“We run it and it has been a huge bonus to Worthing.
“We have a tremendous amount of support from Worthing Borough Council and Sharon Clarke (organiser of the event) is marvellous and really it fulfils our ambition to pull people into Worthing.
“I think we’ve got about 10,000 people here today and it raises an enormous amount of money for charity.”
Mayor of Worthing Bob Smytherman said: “It’s been absolutely brilliant.
“It’s so nice to see so many people down here enjoying themselves and whether it be the serious flyers checking the wind speeds or just the guys jumping off for their own personal charities, it doesn’t matter the reason, they’re here having fun and having a really good time. That’s what matters.
“It’s good for the local economy and it’s great for putting Worthing on the map – congratulations to everyone that’s put this together and for the sponsors that pay for everything to make this happen.
“People come from all around the world – it’s one of the biggest events on the calendar for Worthing.
“I’ve been hugely honoured since I’ve been Mayor to have had two international events now after the world blind bowls, which was an incredible experience, and this is different again.
“The seaside economy gets a lot of bad press and all I can say is come on down to Worthing and see what we have to offer.”
After arriving late for my safety briefing I spent half an hour trying to sweet-talk the judges into awarding me a prize – it didn’t work, writes Argus reporter Gareth Davies.
The wonderful Sharon Clarke, organiser of the Worthing Birdman, took me to one side and gave me the health and safety once-over.
I can’t really remember what was said, but I’m pretty sure it was along the lines of ‘don’t die’.
There were people up there raising money for brilliant charities, conquering fears, carrying out elaborate dance routines and me – a Welshman in an Argus crop top, a beehive wig and armbands on his legs.
The ‘flight’ itself was brilliant. I walked along the platform reading Saturday’s Argus before stepping over the edge, plummeting into the surprisingly warm Channel.
It’s a superb event, and I will definitely be signing up next year. Records, or limbs, will be broken in 12 months’ time.
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