The world's tallest building, Dubai
The world's tallest building, Dubai

Early Birds

The world's tallest building, Dubai
Craig Evans

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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.

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