The death-defying skydiving stunt that aired live tonight on Fox went off without a hitch – but not without a hiccup. Renowned skydiver Luke Aikins became the first man to jump from an airplane at 25,000 feet without a parachute and land safely in a giant net.
The stunt, performed on a branded program called Stride Gum Presents: Heaven Sent, went perfectly, but it almost didn’t go off as planned. In the days leading up to the jump, SAG-AFTRA informed the production company that it was too dangerous – that they wouldn’t let him jump without a chute.
On Thursday, the union issued a “Do Not Work Order” for the show on the pretext that the producers were “not signatory” to its contract. The producers, however, say they wanted to sign the contract, but that the union refused to sign off because of safety concerns.
If they went ahead in the face of the union’s threat, more than a dozen stunt riggers, coordinators and announcers could have faced expulsion from the union. Replacing them all on such short notice would have been impossible, so they agreed that Aikins would wear a chute – and not become the first to jump out of a plane and land in a net without one.
But Aikins hadn’t practiced the stunt with a parachute, and as the plane approached 11,000 feet on the way up, he expressed concern about having to wear one, and how it might affect his freefall and landing.
“Less than 24 hours ago, I was informed that I’m gonna have to wear a parachute to do this jump,” he said. “That adds a complication that didn’t exist before. I was clean and I was gonna land on my back. The powers that be have decided that it’s safer for me to wear a parachute.”
Everyone involved with the stunt was angry. To them it’s like a union telling a trapeze artist or a high wire act they can’t perform without a net – only in this case, Aikins was working with a net.
Earlier on the show, Monica Aikins, the stuntman’s wife, expressed the chagrin that many involved had had with the union. “Most of all I’m just a little bit pissed,” she said. “Last night, 25 hours before the jump, SAG comes to us – the union comes to us – and tells us – backs us basically in a corner – to say he’s got to jump with a parachute.”
But as the plane rose to 25,000 feet – just minutes before the jump – the show’s announcer told the viewing audience: “Seconds ago we received word that the restriction to wear a parachute has been lifted.”
Onboard the plane, Aikins struggled out of the parachute. A few minutes later, he moved toward the door, jumped, and fell safely into the record books. His team was as excited as if he’d won the Indy 500 – but they were also still “just a little bit pissed” at their union for nearly spoiling the gag.