Cover photo courtesy of Vincent Descols
One thing’s for sure: Marine Descols wins everyone over immediately. This huge-hearted, doll-faced airsports athlete
(and wife to Vincent “Le Blond” Descols) started skydiving when she was a 17-year-old legacy kid on Reunion Island and, these days, looms larger-than-life on the European wingsuit scene. You may know her from that sweet video of Marine taking her tiny little wingsuit to some pretty “freaking” cool places–but it’s even more likely that you know her from her instructing work. She travels to dropzones around her native France and Europe, where she’s looked up to as wingsuit coach.
In February, Marine and Vincent organized a wingsuit camp at a very small dropzone in the French Alps. It was a week-long, intensive camp–high-touch and high-progression (exactly what everyone involved was going for), with the dramatic mountain backdrop behind every jump. By February 16th, the camp was off to a great start and going exceedingly well. Marine suited up in her Squirrel ATC (a big wingsuit, if you’re unfamiliar) to do another one. She briefed the group and got ready to lead the jump on her back.
One of the other wingsuit pilots had a bad exit and a slow start to the flight. Much later on, he had recovered and tried to flare from underneath the formation to join the group just as they were about to separate. Flying on her back, Marine couldn’t see the other pilot’s swift ascent directly towards her.
The two hit hard at about 1,800 meters. The other jumper struck Marine from behind. She impacted the hard surface of his undeployed parachute hard enough to lose consciousness.
“He didn’t realize he had joined us so quickly, so he had no idea we were there because he wasn’t watching us when he was flying up,” Marine retells.
Mountain flying often requires thoughtful adjustment of the CYPRES settings, and Marine had not neglected to do so. Her CYPRES fired at 450 meters.
“We changed the settings because we wanted there to be a little more margin,” she explains. “Because of the mountains, we wanted it to be higher.”
“I’m fortunate I didn’t wake up during the jump,” she continues. “I would have probably tried to fly my big wingsuit and my parachute may never have opened.”
Marine was still unconscious when she landed in a tree. That’s where she woke up–hanging like a Christmas ornament, with no idea what she was going there. She had lost her memory for the previous three days. It took her an hour to recover enough of her memory to piece together a story. In the meantime, the traumatized student had watched her descent and landing, landed his parachute as close to her as he could and was frantically searching for her in the forest.
“I wasn’t hurt at all,” she says. “I had no pain anywhere, I felt completely fine physically. It was exactly as if I were waking up in my own bed. It was so crazy. At that moment, I called Vincent, my husband. I always have my phone in my wingsuit.”
Vincent had been leading another group at the camp. At the moment of Marine’s call, he had just learned that Marine was the one who had been struck. She called him right at the moment he was calling the rescue operation. Vincent told her that the student that had struck her was in the forest searching and directed her to call out to him, which she did. The student appeared, elementally relieved to see Marine responsive and apparently uninjured. Without missing a beat, the student located Marine with GPS coordinates and gave the position to the others. From there, the rescue operation was marvelously quick.
Marine emerged with a solid concussion, but with only a black eye and some sore, strained muscles that made themselves known a couple of days later.
“It was really nothing, considering what happened,” Marine marvels. “It was incredible.”
Marine was characteristically gentle with the student who hit her.
“I wasn’t angry at him because I knew he’s a really responsible guy,” she explains. “He wants to do things well, and he made a mistake that people often make without taking it seriously because they don’t hurt anyone. We took the time to discuss it. He was so traumatized, he considered quitting the sport. We convinced him not to. We’re jumping with him next week, in fact.”
The thing that surprised Marine most about her CYPRES fire is the fact that her enormous wingsuit didn’t interfere with her deployment processes.
“It could have been so much worse with the wingsuit,” she muses. “I had no line twists, no spinning.”
Marine insists that she has never even considered jumping without a CYPRES.
“It always seemed to be so important to me that I didn’t even consider not having a CYPRES,” she insists. “I have always been completely aware of the collision risk we have as a group, even if we make the best out of it. Anything can happen, even with responsible students and other jumpers.”
Vincent is quick to agree. “As I tell everyone who asks me what happened,” Vincent chimes in, “I can assure that Marine is one of the as best wingsuit instructors I’ve ever seen. She is a model to me in safety terms and the jumps are really briefed. Basically, that really means that something like this can happen to everyone. We have to be prepared.”
“I’m incredibly lucky you guys exist,” Marine smiles. “Thank you.”