AdventureExploration & Survival

Early Birds

The world's tallest building, Dubai (Photo: Photograph by Kamram Jebreili/AP)
The world's tallest building, Dubai

In January, Dubai celebrated the opening of the tallest building in the world, the 2,716-foot Burj Khalifa, by allowing two men from the United Arab Emirates to leap from it, setting the record for the highest BASE jump from a building. But they weren't the first. The Burj had been poached in April 2008, by Frenchman Herve le Gallou and Brit Dave McDonnell—from 500 feet lower, while the building was still under construction. Two days after the first jump, Le Gallou went back for more. He was caught and spent three months in jail. Craig Evans tracked down McDonnell, who hopped a flight out after the jump, to get his take on the coup.

OUTSIDE: How did you even get into the building?
McDONNELL: We dressed up as European engineers. I had a clipboard, and Herve made fake ID badges for us.

What are some of the logistical concerns for a jump like this?
The jump itself didn't bother me, but I was petrified of being caught. A lawyer said we'd be looking at six to 12 months in an Arab prison. Le Gallou paid a fine to get out.

Why risk it?
Your senses become profoundly acute, and your brain is focused on keeping you alive for the next ten seconds. Everything else tastes like vanilla forever after.

You're free-falling only a few feet from the building. Surreal?
Totally. While under canopy, I was close to the other buildings, and as I went by one there was a guy in his bathrobe drinking a cup of coffee and looking like, What the hell? He waved at me but didn't say anything.

Any hard feelings for the guys who broke your record?
We climbed the stairs for an hour and a half in 104-degree heat. They took the lift and got a crane with a nice basket to jump from. That dilutes it 90 percent.

Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.
Contribute to Outside
Filed To: Aerial Sports
Lead Photo: Photograph by Kamram Jebreili/AP
More Adventure