(SANGATTE, France) — Just 10 days after a failed first try ended with Franky Zapata up to his neck in water, the French jet-ski champion successfully crossed the English Channel on his self-made “flyboard” Sunday morning.
Taking off at 8:17 a.m. local time, he flew across the 21.7 miles that separate the French town of Sangatte from Saint Margaret’s at Cliffe on the southeast British coast. The trip took a total of 22 minutes — with one refueling stop in the middle.
The French inventor’s flight came 110 years after famous pioneering pilot Louis Blériot flew the first plane across the Channel in 1909.
Zapata became known as the “flying soldier” when he showed off his invention before the world’s media at France’s annual Bastille Day military parade on July 14.
At a press conference on Saturday, Zapata said he felt much more confident off success than his failed journey just over a week ago. On July 25, Zapata had launched near Sangatte Beach on his flying board, but had to abandon the challenge when he dropped a few minutes later into English waters after hitting the supply boat platform at very low speed.
Halfway across the Channel, his wife Krystel Zapata got notice that her husband had successfully landed on the refueling platform. It took Zapata a couple of minutes to refuel his bag with kerosene and take off again.
Zapata arrived on British soil at 8:38 a.m., landing on a platform in a field at the top of a cliff. He thanked his wife, his family and his team upon landing. He also thanked the two British women who own the field he landed on.
“Well done. Our land is your land. Come anytime,” said one of the women.
Zapata spoke to the assembled French television networks in Saint Margaret’s, explaining that landing on the stage of the refueling boat was still very tricky. They had planned for the boat to remain still, but it was “impossible,” he said, as the boat moved along with the waves.
“Once I managed to stick my heels into the boat, I knew I had done 90% of the work,’’ he told French outlet BFMTV.
The flyboard cruised along at just over 100 mph throughout the nearly 22-mile trip.
“At the end, my thighs started burning,” said Zapata. “But I just told myself, ‘No, you need to enjoy this now.’ I just went 20 kilometers per hour faster — let’s go!”
Zapata burst into tears when his interview was interrupted by a call from his 9 year-old son, Matt.
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