David Blaine’s Airborne ‘Ascension’ Stunt Is A Success


Magician and endurance performer David Blaine floating away in preparation for balloon stunt. (Courtesy YouTube)

By Parker Dunn, Online Managing Editor


The image of a kid holding onto a bunch of balloons as he drifts off into the sky is nothing short of iconic. Extracted from the 1956 French short film “Le Ballon Rouge” (The Red Balloon), this image has been a source of inspiration for so many, and magician and endurance performer David Blaine is no exception. 


Ever since Blaine was a kid, he’s dreamed of flying, which isn’t an uncommon dream to have. What is uncommon — crazy, in fact — is to attempt to make said dream come true. But if there’s anyone to do it, it’s Blaine, who has buried himself alive for seven days and nights, stood in a block of ice for nearly 64 hours and held his breath underwater for over 17 minutes – amongst other insane stunts. Though it’s clear Blaine may be the man for the job, reaching an altitude of over 20,000 feet by holding onto a bundle of balloons is still no easy endeavor.

Titled “Ascension,” the stunt, in partnership with YouTube, required Blaine to assemble an elite team of weather experts, balloonists, aerial engineers and more – including professional skydiver Luke Aikins. In addition to assembling this impressive lineup, Blaine himself had to reach 500 jumps out of an airplane in order to receive a pro skydiver rating, obtain both hot air and helium balloon pilot certificate — the latter of which is extremely rare — and learn how to read the wind. The work for “Ascension” didn’t stop there.

All of this preparation means next to nothing if Blaine is unable to pull off the stunt itself which poses issues of its own — many of which could result in death. At altitudes of 16,000 to 20,000 feet, which Blaine plans to reach and surpass, hypoxia — an oxygen deficiency characterized by impaired cognitive performance and sometimes loss of consciousness — and hypothermia can occur. Not to, Blaine will have to pull a parachute down from the payload balloon and put it on mid-flight and avoid landing in dangerous places such as areas infested with power lines, which could kill Blaine instantly should he hit said areas.

The Stunt

On Wednesday, Sept. 2, after a change of date and location due to wind, Blaine went live on YouTube in Page, Arizona. Before liftoff, technology-focused YouTuber Marques Brownlee walked the livestream audience through how “Ascension” came to be and all of the technology behind the stunt, all while Blaine suited up for what might be his most dangerous effort yet.

Once Blaine was all ready to go, the audience watched as the performer, hand-in-hand with daughter Dessa, made his way to the balloon contraption – giving Dessa a kiss goodbye, then finally taking flight.

Now with nothing but himself, the balloons and a radio, Blaine’s childhood dream had finally come true, but the stunt was far from over. The livestream became tenser and tenser as Blaine flew higher and higher, with Aikins in his ear reminding him of all the steps that needed to be taken in order to complete the stunt.

With a bit of a struggle, Blaine was able to get the parachute on successfully just before entering hypoxia territory. Then Blaine began incorporating breathing techniques he learned while preparing for his underwater breath-holding stunt, keeping his oxygen levels high at now daunting altitudes. Blaine surpasses 20,000 feet, and Aikins says it’s time for Blaine to ditch the breathing techniques and use the oxygen stored for him in the payload balloon before he becomes hypoxic.

Blaine reaches 21,000 feet, then 22,000, until finally at an astonishing height of 25,000 feet, Aikins tells Blaine to drop now in order to reach the planned, safe landing destination. Blaine follows suit and begins his descent.

As the stuntman gets closer to the hard-looking earth, Blaine becomes audibly concerned about reaching the planned landing destination, and the audience begins to tense up once again. You can hear Blaine and Aikins go back and forth with a pressing tone about where exactly Blaine should land as he approaches the end of his journey. The two finally get through to each other and Blaine successfully lands in a safe, sandy area.

“Ascension” is complete and Blaine is seen smiling from ear to ear while exclaiming, “Wow! That was awesome!” Blaine and his daughter regroup, embrace each other and the livestream ends.

Possibly Blaine’s most ambitious and beautiful performance ever, “Ascension” was an incredible success, not just in its completion, but in its inspiration for Dessa and hundreds of thousands of viewers as well.

You can watch the recorded livestream here on YouTube.


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