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Remembering Vince Reffet

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In tribute to Soul Flyer Vincent Reffet, 36, who died on Tuesday 17 November in a tragic accident while training in the Jetman…

His smile spoke volumes about his spirit

Vince was a man who dreamed amazing visions and made them happen, carrying the world with him on his adventures

Beyond his achievements and his sporting performances, there was this huge smile, a ‘joie de vivre’, the easy joke and a boyish enthusiasm for all things in life. His exploits dazzled the planet, yet he had no ego, he simply had no idea how special he was. Which made him even more an inspiration.  As a boy at school, he remembers “My teachers would always tell me to stop dreaming in class. Well it’s a good job I didn’t listen to them because it’s actually our dreams that lead our lives.”

Vince playing over Empuriabrava – photo by Bruno Brokken

First Jump

Vince was born into a skydiving family and did his first jump, a tandem with father Philippe, at 14. He remembers vividly when he made his first solo jump, at 15 years. He was terrified in the plane but as soon as he was in the air it felt incredible, the fear was gone and he knew he wanted to do this forever.  

It’s like, the moment I landed, I knew what I wanted to do with my life: a career in skydiving. I would remember it all my life, as soon as I stabilized in the air, I knew that was it: my calling”

Vince Reffet
Fred and Vince at their first competition together, 2001

Fred Fugen

This feature of joy following fear was to define his life. Leaving behind his intended career as a carpenter and his judo competitions, Vince threw himself into jumping, passing his AFF course in just four jumps.  He was already friends with Fred Fugen, 5 years older than him, who was a very good freeflyer. Fred taught him everything and very quickly Vincent became outstanding. That was the powerful beginning of his skydiving career that would bring the world adventures that had never been seen or even dreamed.  It was also the beginning of an inseparable partnership with Fred that would span 20 years – although, as Vince often pointed out, “we are not married!” 😉

Vince Reffet, Cathy Bouette and Fred Fugen (Babylon) – World FF Champions, France, 2008

Freefly World Champions

Stef Fardel, the creator of Babylon, knew these two young guys and invited them to join him. They started to train the three of them as a freefly team, and qualified to be the French National team. Vince and Fred won three World Championships in Freefly as Babylon, the French National team; 2004 in Brazil, 2006 in Germany, and 2008 in France.

Vince and Fred had moved to Empuria for training, entering freefly competitions and to BASE jump. They were invited to load organise all over the world, because they were friendly, open and full of happiness. The boys were like a breath of fresh air and launched a new era where champions hang out with new skydivers as buddies, with no elitism.

Vince & Fred, Babylon FF team, 2008 – Image by Babylon

Soul Flyers

In 2009 Babylon was finished, 6 years of training was enough, they were looking for something else. Still very young, they were watching Loïc Jean-Albert, creator of the Soul Flyers, swooping the mountains with a wingsuit, the first person to proximity fly.  Because they were done with competition, they called Loïc, and asked if they could be Soul Flyers too, to join ‘the gang’. Loïc said of course, you have the spirit, so that started the first of many BASE jumping adventures together. Then Loïc broke his back speed flying. Skydiving went on stand-by, he had a big surgery and didn’t know when he could be allowed to jump again. So, he said to Vince and Fred to keep going with the Soul Flyers, keep the identity out there, the essence of the Soul Flyers. 

Vince and Fred Fugen, a friendship that would span 20 years

Moonlight Wingsuit

At that time the Soul Flyers were mainly wingsuit and BASE jumping. In 2010 they did some epic head-down BASE jumps from the Troll Wall, with Fred and Vince freeflying together next to the cliff, even doing their competitive signature move, the tête-à-tête. In 2013 they BASE jumped at night, flying along the cliffs in the Vercors and the Brento, near Lake Garda in Italy. Although they had flown wingsuits at night before, this was their first BASE wingsuit jump at night. Wearing lights in their wingsuits, the moonlight footage is eerily beautiful.

The Soul Flyers’ Fred, Vince, and JP, moonlight BASE wingsuiting

Burj Khalifa 

In 2014 the Soul Flyers wowed the world with iconic jumps from the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, at 828 metres. From their initial idea, it took three years of negotiations to realise five day jumps and one night jump, from a platform specially built at the top. Freeflying together with orange smoke and yellow suits smoke, carving round the Burj Khalifa produced spectacular footage and their evident joy made it clear the goal was pure fun.

Vince and Fred make the world’s highest BASE jump from a building – the Burj Khalifa, Dubai
 The video has more than 28.5 million views on YouTube

High Altitude Mont Blanc 

Also in 2014, Fred and Vince jumped from 33,000 feet, the edge of the atmosphere, the absolute limit of possibility without wearing pressurized suits. With a specially designed oxygen system, they stepped out in -50°C temperatures and performed a beautifully choreographed freefly routine. After opening they spent 6 minutes weaving down the side of Mont Blanc, playing with the terrain and their canopies.

Vince and Fred jump from the edge of the atmosphere

Door in the Sky

The Jungfrau, Switzerland, became the venue for one of Vince’s dreams. He woke up one morning having dreamed about jumping off a mountain and getting into a plane. It was a twist on a feat achieved by Patrick de Gayardon, inventor of the modern wingsuit, who jumped from a Porter, then re-entered the same plane in 1997. Vincent never met Patrick but he knew of his exploits and for sure he was inspirational to the young Frenchman. After training for four months, and set back by an injury on the first attempts, the dream project was realized. Fred and Vince jumped from the Jungfrau, flew down in their wingsuits, and entered the Porter. They even jumped out afterwards, flying in formation with the Porter, a fitting tribute to honour Patrick’s achievement, 20 years later. 

A special project Vince and Fred served up to honour Patrick de Gayardon’s legacy

Jetman

As well as flying with planes (and canopies) wearing a wingsuit, Vincent flew in formation with all sorts of planes, as a Jetman. In 2009, Vince had met Yves Rossy, the creator of the Jetman, who was training alongside Babylon in Empuriabrava. Of course Vincent was interested and asked if he could jump the Jetman. At that time it was a big rigid wing but no engine.  Vince did 2 jumps, it was a piece of cake for him…

“I don’t remember if this was his first or second flight with the wings… but this is an example of how at ease Vince was in the air. He came in close formation with the Porter, and stuck his fingers up his nose: “les doigts dans le nez”, the french equivalent of “this is a piece of cake”…” – Comment and photo by Bruno Brokken

Jet Formation Flights

Over several months Vince learned how to use the Jetman, which developed into a sophisticated flying machine with jet engines at 1,000°C.  It was just Vince at first, coached by Yves, then Fred learned some time after.  Skydive Dubai were very interested in Yves’ project and sponsored him, so he started to train more and more. Vince joined him in Dubai in 2011.

Some moving jumps for Vincent personally flying were in 2016, flying with the jet fighter pilots of the Patrouille de France, his childhood heroes. He said it was the only time in the air he had to tell himself not to cry. 

When you have the chance to join your heroes in the sky – one of the most special moments in Vince’s life

World’s Biggest Plane

In 2015, Vince and Yves flew the Jetman, the world’s small flying machine, next to the world’s biggest passenger plane – an A380. They were smaller than the A380’s winglet! (The little vertical part at the end of the wing). The three ‘aircraft’ performed a carefully choreographed aerial showcase over the Palm Jumeirah and Dubai skyline. This stunt caught the public’s imagination as everyone could imagine waving at the Soul Flyers as the passengers in the airline were doing!

#HelloJetman! The A380 flying with Jetman Dubai pilots Vince Reffet and Yves Rossy
This stunt captivated the public, this video had 30 million views

Taking the vision further

In 2018 Vince and Fred returned to the Troll Wall, Norway with Yves, doing long distance flights over waterfalls and magnificent landscapes.  Here they did the first three Jetman loops and made the first Jetman take off from a cliff.   In 2020 Vincent achieved a vertical take-off in the Jetman, realising another of his dreams. And earlier this year they flirted with a Charentais lighthouse, diving below it then climbing high above it to show off their skills. 

Selfie by Vince – “Just another day at the office”

To the outside world Vincent pulled off some incredible stunts but to him it was all a game, all about fun. Watching him and Fred skydive with a coconut or miming to “Fais comme l’oiseau” is the essence of the Soul Flyers, it’s about spirit, friendship and fun. That’s why Vince captivated the world – the joy he shared with Fred at every new experience was tangible – the way they whooped and hugged arriving in the Porter, the hi-five after the Burj Khalifa jump, their huge smiles radiating love, passion and elation.

Vince and Fred flying into the sunset
Photo by Max Haim

Some people would love to be famous so they dream up stunts to achieve that. Vince loved to dream and to fly, and so the world loved him for his heart even more than his achievements. Vince loved everyone’s dreams not just his own, and he lived a life actively encouraging everyone to follow theirs, becoming the antidote to those schoolteachers stamping on our imagination. Good job he didn’t listen to them indeed. Let’s be thankful we knew this special soul and let his legacy give us the courage to follow our own dreams.

Follow your dreams instead of following your fear”

Vincent Reffet
Vince flying with the A380 passenger jet

Follow your dreams:

We have credited all photographers where known, if we have missed your photo credit please get in touch and we will update it.

Thank you to Patrick Passe for his help compiling this homage

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Lesley has been in love with skydiving for 35 years. She is a multiple world and national record holder and a coach on 20 successful record events worldwide. She has over 100 competition medals spanning more than 25 years and has been on the British 8-way National team at World events. She started Skydive Mag to spread knowledge, information and passion about our amazing sport.
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