Obituary: Johnny Strange
Adventurer who conquered perilous mountain summits and his own fear
Published 04/10/2015 | 02:30
Johnny Strange, who died in a wingsuit flying accident on Thursday aged 23, was a record-breaking adventurer and daredevil who in 2009, aged 17, became the youngest person to complete the so-called Seven Summits - climbing the highest mountains on each of the seven continents; he later also reached the North and South Poles.
A self-confessed "wild child", he was taken by his parents, at the age of 12, to climb Mount Vinson (4,892m), the tallest peak in Antarctica. "They thought when I got there that I would get scared and turn back, but I kept going," he said. "And since then I never really stopped."
It would take Strange five years to tick off the highest continental summits, a noted objective among adventurers and mountaineers. On June 9 2009, he reached the summit of Mount Kosciuszko in Australia (2,228m), thus completing the challenge.
Many of the ascents, including Everest, were made with his father. They were not without incident. During the pair's attempt on Aconcagua in the southern Andes in 2007, Strange suffered frostbite on his toes. "I've almost gotten killed so many times," he would tell reporters. "I almost fell into a crevasse while pulling a sled on Denali [Mount McKinley] and I had to dodge falling rocks on Aconcagua."
The Seven Summits record has since been broken by Jordan Romero, who completed the feat aged 15 in 2011.
Strange went on to reach the South and North Poles, journeys which took a further two years to complete. Eschewing the traditional methods, he reached the North Pole by jumping out of a helicopter at 8,000ft, an event he later described: "The air pierced through my clothing, except I couldn't feel anything but joy as I plunged head first towards the pole. I was never so happy to see the colours as my parachute snapped open. I yelled, 'Oh baby!' then let out a cheer of joy. It was so cold I couldn't feel my hands, but I didn't care. I was alive."
The son of a lawyer, John Robert Strange was born in Malibu, California, on St Stephen's Day, 1991. Both his parents were avid adventurers.
In recent years he had taken to BASE jumping - leaping from tall structures - and "proximity wingsuit flying", both activities with high attrition rates. In proximity flying, the athlete jumps off a cliff and flies close to the ground in an aerodynamic flying suit, before pulling a parachute. It was while performing such a flight in Switzerland that Strange was killed.
"I know some people think what I do is irresponsible because of the risk," Strange said. "But the day I let my fear deter my ability to follow my dreams, I have already died."
He is survived by his father, mother and two sisters.